Pantomiming, Google Translator and the rest; your tools for communicating in a foreign land

“Smiling and kindness are universal languages.” 

There is the physically disabled or physically challenged or people with disabilities or people with special needs. Yeah yeah. The euphemism never gets to finish. Times and times again, a new “better” one is formed. You know many of us are challenged or have special needs too, just like when you find yourself in a foreign land. How interesting it is when you have to converse with someone but the language barrier stands in the way. I always feel disabled when I find myself in situations I cannot communicate with people due to our lack of a common language. Should we all speak a common language? No, I think not.

For other reasons, when you understand you cannot communicate, you just turn away. But it gets more mentally challenging when you have to speak or communicate. I think it’s even more challenging when you know a few words, and you are trying to use them to explain yourself. More like pantomiming. When you speak and you have to use more gestures, including your face to explain yourself.

Situations like these fuel my motivation to learn the language of the land I find myself in. Especially so I can speak to the cafeteria staff at my university here, who always speaks Deutsch (German) to me, and cracks jokes which we all burst into laughter together. Do not mistake Deutsch for Dutch, the latter being language spoken in the Netherlands. Not that I understand the jokes, but you just feel what she says is hilarious. And probably when I laugh, she even laughs harder knowing that I am laughing despite not knowing what she said. Although in these times, I do not feel a great sense of urgency to learn.

However, when I find myself in a situation I need help with, one in which I have to speak and understand what the other person is saying is quite challenging. Like the saleswoman at a shop I visited some days ago. I was trying to pantomime with my hands and legs, that I need a lock for my bicycle. She unfortunately understood it for some toilet detergent. If I cannot make someone understand cycling through pantomiming, how poor can I be when I play the game of charades? It made me chuckle when I always think about the encounter with the lady.

In other instances, I have to use Google Translator to do the translation. It is almost like the Spanish guy in the old hilarious TV Series Mind Your Language, who always uses his English phrase book and ask people to point to what they are saying.

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Stuff like these also shape the way I learn a new language. Many languages have different first lessons. While most start with self-introduction, the lesson that comes after matters a lot. The ways I learn a new language is different from what is given in textbooks. I shape lessons by my current need. I learn the words to use in typical conversations I might get into; classroom conversations, food/kitchen/restaurant convos, house vocabs and so on so forth. For example, because I am always often taking one lesson or the other in a classroom, the typical sentences I will like to learn will be, “I have a question, I do not understand, what time does class ends?” You know, what that you will almost always typically use all the time in that situation. Are you hungry, I am full etc. The key is to try to speak what you want to say for the moment, not learning things you wouldn’t be needing to use any time soon in your first few weeks of learning a language.

I currently live in Germany and face these motivating barriers to learn Deutsch. Have you found yourself in a situation where you want to learn a language just so that you will connect with many people around you? Do you have a personal way of learning languages, or you use Duolingo or follow what the teacher says in the classroom only? I am curious to know what languages you are learning and why you are learning it?


How I paid €14 to look at buildings in Berlin

“Ich bin ein Berliner.” John F. Kennedy, 1963.

There is this story of a guy warned not to go the city because of fear he might be a victim to the swamp of fraudsters. He lives in a small nearby city with not many attractions like that of the bigger city he intended to visit. All warnings fell on deaf ears as he prepared to visit the city for the first time. His friends were almost 100% certain he will be scammed.

When he got back, he told his friends that he went to the city and scammed someone who wanted to defraud him. His friends seem perplexed and asked how. He said someone said for every building he looks at, he should pay 10 cents. And he lied that he looked at 3 and paid 30 cents, when he actually looked at more. Apparently, he got conned without even knowing.

Well, it is not exactly what happened to me and my friend at Alexanderplatz in my second visit to Berlin after a long time. It is a gate fee to have access to a panoramic view of the city of Berlin from atop the Berlin TV Tower or more appropriately called Fernsehturm Berlin.


Many cities have such tall structures allowing for a panoramic view of the cities they are located in. In Tokyo, I was on top of the Roppongi Hill with some friends. The panoramic view of Tokyo is almost fresh in my memory, hugely gigantic and never ends. I also got to have a fantastic view of Nairobi, on top of the International Conference Centre. In total, I have paid 3 times, happily, to look at cities and buildings.

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The Fernsehturm is the tallest (368m) structure in Germany and a great icon of the city. Visitors may climb up to 203 m to enjoy the breathtaking view of Berlin. A little above the visitor’s platform is a revolving restaurant that turns every 15 minutes, I learnt.

For me, aside seeing the extents of the city, the planes landing and taking off at Tegel Airport, I also saw green roofs. The city has embraced such environmental solutions in mass. So many green areas could be seen, especially the Tiergarten.

Shot from the Visitor's platform
Shot from the Visitor’s platform

Back to how we were “conned” to pay €14 each to look at buildings. Honestly speaking, that is what happened. You must pay to get up there. Better off, you have to wait for like an hour before you get your chance. Matter of fact, you will be texted when it is your turn. It doesn’t stop there. Once you ascended the first staircase before you queue up to take the lift, some photographers good at photoshopping make you stand on a white X and pose, imaginary, with the tower. When you see the photos, you will be more than tempted to pay €8 to have one printed for you.

And so we waited patiently with my friend, taking lots of selfies before our turn. After we descended, we had 9 hours left to enjoy the city of Berlin. And what will you do if you had just a day in Berlin? In all honesty, you can see the most talked about places of Berlin in a day and it will leave you overwhelmed.

Most of the city attractions are within walking distance. Just close to the Tower is Alexanderplatz, a site popularly shown in movies with the most recent Captain America. If only I was there when they were making the real shots. We crossed the street to Postdamerplatz,  a location with the first traffic light in Germany. You will always find the place crowded during the daytime. Lots of restaurants and shopping malls border the place. You cannot miss the world clock that shows the time of many cities in the world. It got one thing wrong though, it doesn’t take into effect the European Summer Time.

World Clock
World Clock

A little further is Checkpoint Charlie, a historic place in the history of East and West Germany. Treading back behind the Fernseturm is the Museum Island. Yes, Museum Island. It boasts of 5 museums. But we didn’t go to Museum Island directly from Alexandreplatz. Instead, we took the train, went downtown to a Turkish neighbourhood and prayed in a big mosque belonging to the Turkish community.

Berliner Dom in the rear, Abbakar in the front row

From there, we walked a little longer in the former East Berlin to come to the border West and East Berlin, behind the Berlin Wall and separated by River Spree. The Berlin Wall, destroyed in 1989, still has most of its remains around this area named the East Side Gallery. We walked on the famous double decker Oberbaum Bridge, which used to be the longest bridge in Berlin and once blown up during the Second World War. It was on the border of East Berlin and West Berlin. It conveys cars, trains and pedestrians from both sides.

Oberbaum Bridge
Oberbaum Bridge

From there, we found our way back to Museum Island before running into a Turkish wedding.

By now, you will have exhausted about 5 hours of your time, including lunch time as well. We walked on the famous Unter den Linden Street from Berliner Dom towards the Brandenburg Gate. Unter den Linden means “under the linden trees”. Linden trees run along the pedestrian paths on both sides of the carriage way up to some metres before Brandenburg Tor. You can see three things around here. The gate, then to the left is the Holocaust Memorial and across the street is the Tiergarten. By the time we got to the Holocaust memorial it was about 5 hours to our ride out of Berlin. It was around 7pm then, if you have time, I suggest seeing the night life in Berlin.

There are so many things we saw I didn’t take to comment; Reichstag, Humboldt University, the two zoos and many more. Berlin has so much to offer. We had to get going. We had just one stop before heading out of Berlin. We were treated to a delicious pasta, cooked in Bukra’s way with tuna fish and parmigiano (Italian cheese). It would have been the best way to end the day, except we had to catch the train to the second airport in Berlin, Schnofield.

For the few times I have been in berlin, I can still conclude that I will like to move there. So many people like me have fallen in love with the city. Ich bin ein Berliner (I am a Berliner). Have you been to Berlin before? Did you love it or do you want to move there? Why not?

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