When people asked me how I was going to deal with the inevitable language barriers that would throw up all manner of challenges throughout our year on the road, I scoffed and waived a hand that said ‘no problemmo’. I occasionally even quoted Paul Kelly singing ‘I can order sandwiches in seven different languages…’

To be honest, I thought it would be impossible to NOT learn other languages. I visualised myself somehow just memorising every useful thing I was told by the first native I stumbled across and then being armed with enough words to get by. Obviously, I thought I’d do this in every single country, therein earning me praise and cudos from every local I met, and remembering words and sentences for a few weeks before retiring them to the dormant corner of my mind (where my mathematical genius is stored), in order to make room for the next collection of completely alien phrases.

FYI: This didn’t happen.

In an astonishing feat, Joe and I have managed to get through fourteen non-english speaking countries having learned a total of about 10 words, (most of which roughly translated mean hello or thank you).

Even more surprisingly, when we finally arrived in Germany, a country where I can actually string a sentence together, my foreign tongue was still on mute. I was too scared to say boo (or even ja bitte) lest I got it wrong, or was misunderstood or lest it be followed by a barrage of indecipherable follow up questions that would expose me as a fraud (think Brad Pitt in Inglorious Basterds saying ‘arreeyyverdeerchi’).

I started to realise that we’d failed miserably in the language stakes. Perhaps deep down inside, I could speak fluent (okay, basic) German, but I was so hesitant to do so in the company of our German English-speaking friends that I didn’t even give it a chance.

You see, I’d learnt my language skills in school about ten years ago, and I worried that as soon as the conversation wandered away from my name and age and my sister’s name and age, and my brother’s name and age, and my cat’s name and age, then I’d suddenly seem very, very dull.

It isn’t so much that we can’t speak foreign languages, believe me, we’ve tried, the problem is that everyone else speaks excellent English, and usually before I’ve even managed to bastardise my first syllables, they butt in and answer my question in English.

My prognosis is that English IS the language barrier. English has made me lazy. (Also, it may be that being lazy has made me lazy.) 

But where does this leave learning languages? Do I give up completely?

As we spent more time in Berlin, I tested more and more words out on unsuspecting shop assistants, and things seemed to make sense (either that or they were REALLY trying to close the sale). I think what it means is that all you need confidence to speak a language, not necessarily all the words. As languages become more and more ‘englishified’ there’s no harm in trying to make yourself understood by using a combination of what you know in the native tongue, and what you guess they’ll know English. It also makes for some hilarious pronounciation. Last week I asked a waitress for a Coke, and when she didn’t understand, I changed my accent and asked her for Cock. Strangely enough I got my Coca Cola.