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SGSpouse and I are packing for a trip to Taiwan, so I have been trying to learn some Chinese phrases. It really is difficult for me, but I know that learning just a handful of phrases and the numbers is incredibly valuable.

Based on my travel experience, my opinion is that you need to learn to say at least a handful of things in the native language: Hello, Goodbye, Please, Thank-you should be learned just because trying at least that much buys a lot of good will. If you get in a jam and need help or guidance, good will is incredibly valuable. Next you need to know how to ask "How much is it?", "Where is the . . .?", "How far to . . . ?" and a few other questions. Last, but not least, you need to know how to count.

The difference that these few phrases can make in your success at finding what you want to see in a country where English is not spoken is significant. I learned that lesson a long time ago when I first traveled to countries that didn't speak English, Spanish or Italian (the only languages I ever studied and learned the basics).

But recently, I've gotten lazy and it has had an impact. When we traveled to India earlier this year, I didn't bother to even try to learn the language. SGSpouse and I had traveled to India about 4 years ago and during our stay (in New Delhi, Jaipur and Agra) never had even the remotest opportunity to speak anything but English. Virtually everyone we encountered and dealt with spoke English fairly well while we could barely utter even a few simple Hindi phrases. But this trip, we traveled to Bhopal and Pachmarhi and it was rare that we encountered anyone who spoke even a word of English. We found ourselves having a very difficult time negotiating transportation. We had trouble communicating both the destination we wanted to arrive at and the price to get there. Some days we spent quite a bit of our time struggling with communication issues that would have been simple with even a tiny amount of language skill. Purchases in shops and restaurants were also difficult.

Similarly, last month we took our second trip to the Netherlands and did no language preparation because our previous trip had been to Amsterdam and den Haag where English was spoken by almost everyone we encountered. But this trip we drove into the countryside and stayed in Emmens, far from any large cities. We traveled across the countryside through a myriad of small towns looking for the 56 known Hunebeddens. (By the way, I've seen them all now). Again, communication was often poor.

So, I am listening to Cantonese phrases and trying to repeat them tonight in preparation for our trip. I'm hoping to be able to at least speak the basic pleasantries, ask a few questions and be able to count.

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