Don’t Speak English

The global world we’re living in implies people to rely more and more on English as a shared language. Wherever you go, there is a strong chance you’ll find someone speaking at least a little bit of it. That’s why, as a traveler and a photographer, it’s a valuable skill to develop. However, English might not be the Holy Grail to make better photographs.

Nobody can deny how convenient it is to share a common language throughout the world. Being able to have interesting discussions with someone lost in the middle of nowhere sounds awesome. Although you’re likely to find an English-speaking person anywhere, I think learning French is a far better idea. I can already see you frowning and wondering “what the heck is he speaking about?”. Let me explain: French is certainly the most beautiful language in the world and has been used by generations of geniuses thro… Wait… What am I saying? Ahem sorry, I’m getting lost…

Let’s restart. Although you’re likely to find an English-speaking person anywhere, that doesn’t prevent you from learning French the local language of the country you’re in. Even a few basic words like “hello,” “thanks,” “goodbye,” or “can I take make a photograph of you?” will make a great difference. Suddenly the person you’re talking to will raise a smile — be it a smile of pleasure, politeness or mockery, nobody cares, mission accomplished. A connection between you and who was before a total stranger has been created. Now you just need some good light and you’ve got everything you need for an interesting photo shoot. Or, if you want to push things further, you can start a discussion, an exchange, banal though it is, that will make you and your new friend feel even more comfortable, leading to greater photographs.

Having learnt a little bit of Nepali, I always used the same kind of sentences I knew to launch a conversation. Although it stopped right after the first two sentences, people I met were more than happy to see a stranger trying to speak their language, making them keener to open their doors to me.

Having learned a little bit of Nepali, I always used the same kind of sentences to launch a conversation. Although it usually stopped right after the first two sentences, people I met were happy to see a stranger trying to speak their language, opening their door to me.

 

It’s furthermore of utmost importance to make this effort if you intend on staying for an extended period of time with this person as it may as well be the first connection of a life-long friendship. And as we often say: “You only get one chance for a first impression”. So make it count!

Creating a connection is probably the most important thing to do if you intend to make interesting people photographs. So next time when traveling, buy a dictionary, learn a few words of the local language and don’t speak English to the folks you meet. Speak their language instead!

Shortly after my arrival in Mongolia, a friend lent me an English-Mongolian dictionary. Although Mongoli remains quite a tough language to learn, this piece of paper proved to be useful to create connections with many people

Shortly after my arrival in Mongolia, a friend lent me an English-Mongolian dictionary. Although Mongolian is a tough language to learn, it proved to be useful to create connections and have discussions with many people (and occasionally puppies…).

 

Did you notice improvement in your photographs when you began speaking a few words in the language of the country you were visiting? You feel very bad at learning languages but you’ve found other ways to create a connection? I’ll be glad if you could share your opinions, experiences and tips with us in the comments.

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