Skip to content
31 July 2013 / leggypeggy

Do an overland, learn a language

Asking directions

Colin takes advantage of being stuck in a traffic jam and asks another driver for directions

I’m constantly amazed to hear and watch Colin and Danny, our driver and guide for this trip, babble away in Portuguese.

When we met them late last year in Argentina, neither of them knew any Portuguese, and Danny had only had some lessons in Spanish. But now! Wow!

I am so impressed because theirs isn’t your simple order-a-meal or find-the-hotel touristic gumpf. Theirs is a proper manage-in-Portuguese and read-the-newspaper language—all in a total of about four months of travelling in Brazil.

We get to Peru soon and they’ll have to switch to their Spanish—another new talent. I asked Danny which was better—his Portuguese or his Spanish. He says he has more Spanish vocabulary and better Portuguese pronunciation.

It reminds me of advice given by Lu, the guide on our 24-week, London to Sydney overland. Her view was that you spend a lot of time sitting in a truck—looking out the window, reading, sleeping or listening to an iPod—so you might as well have that iPod loaded with language lessons.

She was so right! My language skills improved tremendously when we did the overland in Africa. I used lots of French in West Africa, and even some Arabic because the Lebanese run many of the shops there. Arabic came in handy again for the tail-end of that trip when we travelled between Sudan and Syria.

So we decided to follow good Lu’s advice.

Last year, we were going to have more than six months of travel, starting with about six weeks in North America and the remainder in South America, mainly in Spanish-speaking countries.

A couple of months before setting out, we bought two sets of Spanish language CDs and did some practice, especially in the car. The CDs then got loaded on to my iPod and when we started our travels in the USA—guess what?—the volume on the iPod had somehow been set to low, low, low.

It kept asking for a code, even though I’d never set a code. I tried every four-digit number combo I’d ever used in the past, but nothing. I visited Apple stores in the US and Canada and nobody could help. Even Google didn’t have an answer.*

So our good intentions and language lessons languished on an unused iPod. 😦 Infuriating, but that’s the way it was. Still the bits we remembered from the earlier practice came in handy in restaurants and shops.

By the time we decided to do this overland, which focuses almost completely on Brazil, I forgot about buying language CDs, so we’ve only made a little headway on Portuguese.

It’s frustrating because it’s such a wonderful opportunity—printed words and sounds abound, there’s the chance to practice every day and it gives you a lot more insight into the places you visit and people you meet.

So I swear, next trip, I’ll set out to learn or relearn some language.

* In the last two weeks of travel, I finally tried 0000 as the code on my iPod and it worked. You’d think Google or someone in an Apple store might have suggested that.


Leave a Comment
  1. agogo22 / Jul 31 2013 10:45 am

    Reblogged this on msamba.


  2. Joanne T Ferguson (@mickeydownunder) / Jul 31 2013 10:57 am

    Always good to hear from you Peggy, true!
    As long as you don’t forget your Aussie strine…all will be okay too! lol
    Cheers! Joanne


  3. colin / Jul 31 2013 10:15 pm

    or just learn the international language of hands & feets


  4. weggieboy / Jul 31 2013 11:29 pm

    One does have a very much different experience of a country if one can manage in the local language, even at an elemetary level. As always, your post is compelling and interesting!


    • leggypeggy / Aug 1 2013 3:34 am

      Having the language makes an enormous difference. Danny checked us all in to a hostel this morning in western Brazil and the Lebanese manager was stunned and very pleased that both Poor John and I spoke Arabic. We had a good ole chin wag.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. misslapepita / Aug 1 2013 2:15 am

    So true! When I went to Ecuador I hadn’t spoken Spanish in 4 years, but no one spoke English. Within a week I had improved by miles! You just need to keep using the language. It was an amazing experience. Keep traveling and exploring! 😀

    Liked by 1 person

    • leggypeggy / Aug 1 2013 3:19 am

      Thanks for dropping by, misslapepita! You are so right. Keep using the language and don’t be afraid to make mistakes.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. Prayaan India / Aug 3 2013 8:26 pm

    Hmm very true.. so now prepare yourself for 22 different languages for your trip to India… At present there are 22 official languages of India..
    Just kidding Lol.. Hindi language will be enough to communicate with locals…


  7. Brian Lageose / Jun 20 2016 1:06 pm

    Just curious: Based on all of your extensive travels, what do you think would be the most valuable language to learn in terms of being the most useful?

    Liked by 1 person

    • leggypeggy / Jun 20 2016 4:58 pm

      It depends on the focus of your travels. Spanish in South America, Russian in Central Asia, French in West Africa, Arabic in the Middle East (although dialects differ widely), English usually gets you by in Europe.
      If I has to pick just one it would be French or Spanish.

      Liked by 2 people

      • Brian Lageose / Jun 21 2016 9:08 am

        Thanks, Peggy. I’ve got the French covered. I’ve been contemplating Spanish or Italian (I have the full Rosetta course for both of them) so you’ve just nudged me toward Spanish…

        Liked by 1 person

  8. jeanleesworld / Sep 16 2016 5:01 am

    Gah, those pesky technological whatzits! But I love this idea of growing yourself as you go. Learning a language when it won’t be used always feels…well there’s less NEED to it, you know? We often thirst for understanding, but we can already quench that thirst in our homeland (to a degree, anyway). Elsewhere, we must acquire the taste of that language’s water, or get used to being really, really thirsty.
    Side note: I’ve always wanted to learn sign language. Now you’ve stirred that up in me again. 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

    • leggypeggy / Sep 16 2016 7:46 am

      Sign language would be a great one to learn. The father of a dear friend in high school was the principal of the Nebraska School for the Deaf. His signing was so good that pupils thought he was deaf. But he learned it because his brother was deaf.

      So you are very right about feeling the need to learn a language. I will never forget the Arabic phrase for ‘I want a candle’, which I learned when I was standing in a small store in Cairo Egypt and the power was out.

      Liked by 2 people

      • jeanleesworld / Sep 16 2016 12:03 pm

        Arabic! How do you keep track of all the languages in you?
        I do hope I can learn sign sometime. It’s one of those “when the kids are in school” plans. 🙂

        Liked by 2 people

      • leggypeggy / Sep 16 2016 2:05 pm

        I’ve forgotten so much Arabic. Can’t carry on a proper conversation any more. The French is better.


  9. Sartenada / May 30 2017 4:26 pm

    Yes, when speaking many languages, travel is a joy. My blog is in English, Spanish, French and Portuguese. I know also German, but not enough to make my post in it. Because being Finnish, we know also Swedish. My wife knows these languages, but also Russian. When helping tourists in Helsinki, they always ask, do You speak English; they never ask if we speak other languages. Sigh.

    English, Swedish and German, I learnt in school. Spanish I learnt like a child when working there 4½ months, French by translating 10 books by dictionary in my hand and Portuguese by two winter courses which was hold once a week. Languages are easy to learn. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • leggypeggy / May 30 2017 4:59 pm

      I think it is wonderful when people are able to speak and write more than one language. I can bumble along in French and Arabic, but not enough to do a post in those languages. It’s a pity that English has become the runaway first language of the world.

      Liked by 1 person

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: