Something I’ve always loved about foreign travel is that every product package, shop sign, radio program, and menu is also a language lesson. Just go about your business and the language will teach itself to you. This isn’t so different from the way infants learn to speak. It’s not as systematic as signing up for French 101—but since time out of mind, it has done the job.
Foreign languages, like fancy French cheeses and paella and prosciutto, are increasingly available here at home. For instance, whenever I feed my cat treats—she likes Whiskas, made by the Mars company—the packet offers me a French lesson: “Une gâterie irrésistible au centre mou, croquante à l’extérieur et tout simplement sublime.” (Even in a language one doesn’t speak, marketing hype is unmistakable, no?)
I’ve learned from my clothes how to say “Hand wash separately in cold water” in French and Spanish—even if I do ignore the message in all three languages and toss the garment into the washing machine. I’ve picked up “Please recycle” in Italian from my hair-conditioner jar. Stuff that comes with an instruction manual is the best. My new Miele vacuum cleaner’s “turbobrush,” for example, offers an ambitious comparative-languages program—in 13 languages, even unto Finnish and Greek. (Or if you treat British and American English as separate languages, the way Miele does, that makes 14.)