The Advantage of a Foreign Language

Emily a fluent French speaker had an added advantage when seeking work abroad. She could translate freely between employer and the locals when required. The below taken from Wintering in the Riviera, by William Miller describes the advantage of speaking the local language had.

The first great stumbling-block in the way of going abroad is to many, especially elderly persons, the want of knowledge of the language of the country to which they wish to direct their steps, or the want of power to converse in it freely.

There can be no doubt that it is of great consequence to have an acquaintance with the language of the country in which one desires to travel or reside for a time. People are saved much inconvenience and often money when they can talk it with fluency, and can comprehend what the natives say—usually the more difficult operation. At the same time, in all frequented parts of France, Italy, and Switzerland, either English or French will carry any one through.

Although Emily had a command of the French language, she would have got by without it in the South of France. Most hotels had at least one English speaker, and some even to Emily’s delight had an Irish representative.

At the hotels, unless they be what I have called English hotels, one usually meets with people of all countries. In one hotel in France, I was informed we had representatives of eight different nations, counting English, Scotch, and Irish as one. It has struck me, however, that although the French language is so generally spoken, the French themselves, while found travelling in every part of their own land, are very seldom seen in other countries.

Lost in translation

In his book Wintering in the Riviera, William Miller explains the sometimes disadvantages of speaking the language of the visited country. In his and Emily’s time they did not have the advantages of television or the internet, although there were plenty travel guides, but few ways of experiencing another country before visiting it. It was common to experience some kind of culture shock. William Miller gave the following advice for those who might partied with the locals;

There is nothing so difficult as to get merry with those who speak another language, into which everything has mentally and slowly to be translated, and the flashes of merriment often will neither brook translation nor abide deliberative meditation.

How Emily fared in the situation is hard to say now but always sociable she seemed to have fitted in easily. During her stay at Hotel Splendid in Mentone she seemed to be on friendly enough terms with the other guests to ask them to contribute to Kingstown Lifeboat disaster fund of 1895.

The Irish Times – Page 5 Saturday 18 April 1896