12 Important Things No One Teaches You When Learning A Language

How do you say, “How you doing” in Italian?

1. How to pick up cuties.

Let’s face it, “tu es caliente” isn’t going to cut it. Sure, you can smile, and nod, and try to play off the cute, innocent American-who-only-speaks-English schtick, but that will only get you so far. This isn’t the Lizzie McGuire Movie and you probably don’t look like an Italian pop star.

2. How to count.

Oh yeah, I know TECHNICALLY, “Ein zwei drei” was on the lesson plan, but all of that goes out the window when you’re trying to buy souvenirs for your mom and you suddenly realize that Euros don’t come in 25 cent units! They’re 20 cent pieces, and trying to figure out how many to give the shopkeeper is like trying to learn math all over again.

3. How to listen.

After four years of French, you probably understood your teacher okay, but she was talking slow, and also American. Hearing actual French people speak? At French speed? Completely dizzying.

4. How to pronounce words.

We get it. High school teachers see the same stinking American kids year after year, with the same stinking accents. They don’t have time to correct every stinking kid who pronounces a word poorly, but that pronunciation can make the very key difference between “Merci beaucoup,” (thank you very much) and “Merci. Beau cul.” (thanks, nice butt)

5. How unimportant conjugation is.

Really, if you’re going abroad for a couple weeks, it’s not that big a deal if you can’t conjugate the subjunctive tense properly. You can use present tense just fine; people will understand. And if you’re going abroad for an extended stay to master the language, you’ll have plenty of time to figure out the subjunctive as you go.

6. How important reflexive verbs are.

It’s the difference between “I feel like a goat” and “I smell like a goat.” One is kind of a funny joke, and the other is hilarious. To everyone but you.

7. How to tell time.

16 o’clock? The hell? These people are making up hours that don’t exist.


If you’re headed to Italy, beware. Everything on the table comes with a price. This isn’t the Olive Garden, and those aren’t the free breadsticks.

9. How to slang.

Anyone learning English needs to know words like “dude,” “bro” and “totes magotes.” So why don’t they teach the equivalents in Spanish or Japanese? And how come all the slang they do teach is from the ‘70s?

10. How to barter.

For most Americans, this is nerve-racking business. Just slap the price on there, thanks. If there’s a discount, slap that sticker over it. But asking me to fight with a stranger over how much I’m going to pay for his goods? Terrifying.

11. How to maintain a healthy weight.

If you’re traveling to another country, chances are you like new cultures and new foods. And there are so many new foods to try. Noodles, breads, cheeses, cakes, candy. Before you know it, you’re 20 pounds heavier. But damn was it fun getting there.

12. How to curse.

Everybody knows these are the most important words to know in any language, but for some reason, high school teachers don’t like to talk about them. Everyone knows “scheisse” and “merde,” but the whole world opens up when you learn how to call someone an inbred sack of meat in Mandarin.

But in the end, you’re going abroad!

It doesn’t matter how unprepared you are! You’re off to see the world! And there’s plenty of time to learn while you’re there!

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