"In Control" - Vol. XIII, No. 6
In the past, we've given all you prospective racers some hints about how to cope with the things you will see while running The Amazing Race. We've told you about map reading; we've told you about some of the lesser-known clue types; we've even given you ways to get around some of the words and phrases found in the race clues. Most anyone should be able to do well on the race using the information we've provided to date.
There is one thing we've never talked about, though. Oddly enough, it's the thing that we probably get the most inquiries about as well. Here's a sample of what we mean, from an e-mail we received written by one of our regular readers, whom we will call "Ittle Blean" for the sake of this column. (Note that the actual name has been changed to protect the reader's true identity.)
"...so the main question I have is how do you deal with the language barrier? In the United States everyone speaks English. But that's not the case in other parts of the world, like Alaska or Wyoming."
That is a very astute observation, Ittle. It is true that English is the accepted language across most of the U.S.A. (have you ever been to Boston?), but many other countries don't speak English at all. We realize that not everyone has the unique ability to instantly pick up on the local language like we did, so we've decided to provide a few techniques that might help all the rest of you, should you be fortunate enough to be selected to appear on an upcoming TAR.
Most racers, on learning of their selection, instantly run out and buy phrase books or "Rosetta Stone" lessons for multiple languages. They then try to assimilate all of them at once. This usually results in the following exchange between a harried racer and a local constable on the streets of Marseilles, France:
HARRIED RACER: "on pourrait tuer des bebe phoques, aussi."
LOCAL CONSTABLE: "?"
Of course, the reason for the blank look and questioning expression by the constable is that the racer just told them that they could kill baby seals together. You see, trying to learn a new language is a tricky business (unless you're running for the second most powerful position in the free world), and not one that you should attempt in the short time you will have after you are notified that you have been selected for TAR and before the day the race actually begins.
The perils of foreign languages (unless the racer was actually TRYING to inform the policeman of a burning chicken in his ear).
1) If you don't seem to be getting through to the person you are talking to, simply SPEAK LOUDER. There is obviously a huge difference between English spoken in a normal tone of voice and English YELLED. Additionally, the locals are far more likely to cooperate when they realize you mean business.
2) You might also try slowing your speech rate down. Perhaps the reason you weren't understood wasn't because the local didn't understand English, but because you were speaking too fast. If you slooooow your speeeeech raaaaate dowwwwwn annnnd proooo nounnnnnce eeeeeach sylllllll aaaaa blllllle distinctly, the comprehension light is sure to go on, and soon you and the local will be gabbing away like old friends - albeit at a rather slow pace.
3) If the above two don't work, you can always make the sound of what you're looking for (you know - ‘I think I can, I think I can' for a train, etc.), or alternatively, you can act out what it is you seek (put your arms out at your sides and make whooshing sounds to indicate that you would like to buy some LSD). In the past, these have met with varied success. One team was actually taken to the local airport after trying the second example above.
4) If the "normal" English word for a place isn't working, try rephrasing what you want using a different description in English. For instance, if the local doesn't seem to understand that you want a taxi, ask for a "car that takes you places" instead. If you can't find directions to the train station, instead consider asking for the "place with engines and tracks". Sometimes it even helps to rephrase your request in combination with the acting mentioned above. Be careful when trying this while looking for the airport, though.
5) The easiest way to make yourself understood in countries that speak the "romance" languages is to simply add a vowel to the end of the English word. Here's what we mean - try asking for, "directionas to the buso depota". That little gem was how to ask for directions to the bus depot when in Italy. Slick, huh?
6) Another sure-fire way to be understood is to speak English, but use the local accent! It's amazing, but it works. In Berlin you might try this, "Ja vole, herr commandant. Ve vould like to go to ze zausage factory. I know nothink, nothink!" OK, we admit that we mixed in a little "real" German there (which you could do too, if you've watched enough TV), but what self-respecting German wouldn't understand that we had just asked for directions to the sausage factory?
7) If you do happen to know a few words in another language (excluding the curse words, of course), you can always impress the locals by dropping them even though you aren't in the country that speaks the language that you know the words in. When in India, you can always tell your taxi driver to go "rapido, rapido!" or maybe even "pronto". But since everyone knows that "rapido" is just ‘rapid' with an ‘o' added; and "pronto" is just ‘pront' with an ‘o' added, all you're really doing is following suggestion number 5 above.
8) Of course, before trying any of the above, you need to stand in the middle of a crowd and demand to know if anyone speaks English. This is usually pretty ineffective, and rarely works in New York and Los Angeles.
9) And finally, be sure that you take the time to insult the locals for not knowing English. There are many ways of doing this. The obvious one is to announce that everyone within earshot must be a complete idiot for not knowing your native language. Or, you could go for a more subtle approach and simply roll your eyes when your cabbie doesn't seem to understand the directions you just gave him in fluent English.
With the above suggestions in hand, there should be nothing stopping you from leading TAR from wire-to-wire if you ever get selected. Even if you don't manage to make the show, you can always use these valuable language techniques the next time you have to travel outside of the U.S. Since they come from two experts like us, you just KNOW that they will produce results.