“Where are you from?” “I’m from Turkey.” “Üzgünüm, Türkçe bilmiyorum.” This is an example of how I would attempt to break the ice when meeting a person from Turkey. For those who don’t know me well enough, this is the only sentence I know in Turkish. And despite not speaking their language, this one statement (which literally means “Sorry, I don’t speak Turkish”) would normally imply my awareness of and interest in the conversation partner’s language and culture. As expected, the sentence creates a highly positive first impression of me, and perhaps even initiates a powerful dialogue with the person.
I often refer to this technique as the ‘One Sentence Trick’. All it takes is learning the sentence “I don’t speak…” in as many languages as possible (starting with the ones that are commonly used in your surroundings) and periodically refreshing the knowledge by repeating the sentences. This also helps to improve your pronounciation and make the sentence available for retreival from your brain whenever it is needed. Sounds simple, doesn’t it? I have already gone through this process with twenty, thirty or perhaps even more languages. Were the sentences helpful at all? Yes! I’ve realised that similarly to how I appreciate when someone attempts to say a few words in Hungarian, people from all around the world feel the same sense being respected when a conversation partner shows his or her knowledge of their mother tongue.
When you are satisfied with the amount of languages you can say the sentence in, you may feel like extending your knowledge of some of these languages by memorising other essential phrases. For instance, “Nice to meet you!”, “My name is…” and “Goodbye” all suit the purpose. The aim is obvious: promoting community cohesion through the concept of multilingualism. Viszontlátásra, kveðja, do widzenia!