Europe, French, Miscellaneous, Travel

Being the Translator

My laptop has literally committed suicide on me, so I am currently unable to upload any posts with photos (hence the lack of posts + I was on a roadtrip with friends).  Therefore, I thought I’d do a little musing about the trip I made to France in January from a language learning point of view.

I am the only person in my family who speaks French.  We decided to explore without joining a tour or hiring a guide, so that we could enjoy the sights at our own pace.  We agreed to take this approach because my family trusted me enough to rely on me to get around / order food / sort out any problems etc should we encounter non-English speaking people.  This meant that everybody felt pretty at ease, and we were less likely to get scammed 😀

“Being the translator” is definitely great practice.  It’s also useful and fun, as people warm up to you because they can now feel more comfortable being able to speak in their first language with you and share jokes while your companions look on blankly.  It’s also interesting to note the surprise on people’s faces (I’m assuming the number of Asian tourists in France who speak French isn’t too high…).

However, “being the translator” can also be stressful and annoying.  When you travel, you are inevitably tired.  This means that you can become extremely irritable when your brother orders: “Get me a hotdog”.


I’m not going to write about important travel phrases when travelling (to a place where you don’t speak the language), because there is invariably an abundance of similar articles with lots of helpful suggestions if you Google hard enough, but I just wanted to write about some things to consider if you are going to be the one that your travel companions will be “relying on”:

remind your companions that there will still be some people who speak English (especially in touristy places): speaking on everybody’s behalf gets tiring, and they can still equally make connections with locals!!

remind your companions that you don’t know everything

remind your companions that they should still treat you as a family member / friend: not a paid translator / personal assistant


Here are also some things that I have found could be useful to consider revising if you will be translating for your group:

formal / informal speech

-question speech patterns

-asking for directions

-transport related vocabulary: such as “line”, “stop”, “taxi rank” etc.

-asking for the bill

-how to order

-how to make bookings

menu related items: this is actually such a big one!  Even if you already know your fruits and veggies, you should also revise / learn:

  • seafood (I don’t like seafood, but my family does, so I really had to learn as I went T.T)
  • meat
  • cuts of meat (e.g. flank steak, ribs etc.)
  • cooking methods (e.g. steamed, fried etc.)
  • rareness of meat (e.g. well done, medium rare etc.)
  • you might consider asking your travel companions what sort of food they like, so you can ask around if necessary and/or be prepared

clothing & shoes / skincare / cosmetics: especially if you like to shop! ^^

anti theft / scamming vocab: like “stop!”, “thief!”, “we’re not interested!” or “leave me alone!” (I’m serious! We nearly got pickpocketed >.<)

I can’t think of anything else from the top of my head, but I will surely add to this list if anything else pops up.  If you have any suggestions, please tell me! ^^

Have any of you had to “be the translator” while on holiday?  And how did you find the experience?


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