Bright Green Enterprise

Archive: Oct 2018

The Lessons of Language

To travel is one of my main passions in life; travelling and all that it encompasses – people, language, culture, food, history, architecture. The world is full of so many wonders, and I for one, can’t seem to get my fill. No matter how, where to, or who with, you travel, this beautiful planet of ours has much to offer, and we have much to learn.

Learning a language for me, was and is one of the greatest pleasures of life. The feeling of being able to communicate in a language different to your native tongue, to express yourself in ways which don’t directly translate from your language, and to learn about people in their own language, is a joy quite unlike any other. I always regretted not taking a language at school; it wasn’t mandatory for GCSE. I think it is a real shame that here in the UK we do not push for language learning, and instead take for granted that in most countries, you are bound to find someone who speaks English. So, when I set off to South America, to an unknown destination, for an unknown length of time, it was number one on my agenda to learn Spanish, to be able to fully immerse myself in South American life.

The way in which I learnt Spanish (and am still learning) was perhaps a little less conventional than for many, but it was by far the most fun, and the most effective. Full immersion. I had taken a very (poor) short Spanish course in Spain, which provided me with some very basic conversation, but I was by no means ‘prepared’ in the language department.

It seems that most people either learn a language at school/university, take an intensive course, or at least use one of the many language-learning apps now available. I decided to challenge myself a little more, and placed myself in situations and environments whereby I had no choice, but to (try to) speak Spanish. I quickly realised that mime was my friend, and instantly became far more… ‘animated’ when trying to converse in Spanish!

Despite South American countries being a popular destination for many backpackers from “Western” countries, I purposefully ensured that I was not surrounded by English-speaking individuals, and often took myself slightly further off-the-beaten-track. There is a very popular “route”through several countries, which most travellers tend to stick to, hitting all the top spots, and ticking off the main attractions from their bucket lists. I wasn’t really aware of this route, until I met a few individuals a couple of months into my travels, who were rather surprised that I had not arrived in the conventional way. By making my way to slightly more out-of-reach destinations, I rarely found people who spoke English, so had little choice but to communicate in my ever-expanding Spanish. As I was travelling solo, this too, was a fantastic way to force me to reach out, integrate, and stumble my way through the many complexities of Spanish.

The very act of travelling, lends itself perfectly to learning a new language. If you’re not on an all-inclusive trip, chances are you’re going to have to ask for directions to the beach, order some (possibly unknown!) food, buy tickets to a museum, book a mountain biking tour… I encourage you to push yourself out of your comfort zone, in order to ‘create’ more scenarios in which you can use your new language. By expanding your comfort zone, you expose yourself to new vocabulary, new syntax, maybe a different tense, and the more you come across these, and attempt to use them, the more comfortable you grow in developing your understanding of the language.

Even if you’re not engaging in conversation with someone, you can still learn. A couple of my favourites were to listen to music – with the added bonus of exploring new music genres; and to eavesdrop conversations – particularly on public transport. It is amazing how much you can pick up without even really thinking about learning. The brain is a sponge, and just like children, we absorb the information all around us. By understanding how it is spoken, it becomes more familiar, and eventually, easier to use.

Like all new skills, learning a language may come to some people more easily, and to others less so, but as with learning to ride a bike, or doing long division, or making a roast dinner…practice is key. Much like the numerous falls from your first bicycle, language learning is full of mistakes: wrong words, embarrassing errors, miscommunications, but hopefully too, lots of laughter (and no grazed knees in sight!)

To highlight the varied journey that language-learning can be, here are some of my out-of-the-ordinary experiences where I learnt, and made mistakes in, Spanish:

– Building a house in Argentina – including daily vocabulary practice for spade/bucket/pliers/shovel!

– Following instructions to hike 6 km up-river to a ‘home’ in the middle of the Bolivian sub-tropical forest

– Falling ill and being taken care of in a hostel (twice!)

– Negotiating prices for a bus journey at 2 am

– Booking an excursion and finding out at 4 am that I had unwittingly agreed to climb a mountain

– Making friends with the train conductor as I crossed from Bolivia to Brazil

– Being taken swimming…and failing to bring a swimsuit

Thanks to experiences like those above, I have continued my language learning in times when I hadn’t even been consciously trying. Whilst I now may be confident holding a conversation with most people, I still don’t feel happy calling myself ‘fluent’, and know that this learning will continue to grow and change. But let’s keep pushing ourselves out of our comfort zones, setting ourselves challenges, and not be afraid to make mistakes. It’s in those places, after all, where we learn the most. I recently read a great quote from Kerstin Hammes, editor of the Fluent Language Blog, and I’ll leave it here to finish,

“Language learning never stops because it’s culture learning, personal growth and endless improvement.”



Author: Rachel Calnan

The Impact of Travel

September 27th is dedicated annually to World Tourism Day, with a focus on supporting sustainable and responsible growth within the tourism sector. Sustainable tourism encompasses three central pillars, the implementation of which balances impact between protecting the environment, maintaining socio-cultural integrity, and promoting long-term economic benefits.

These three pillars form the basis for sustainability in general, so it makes sense that sustainable tourism takes into account, and practices, these same factors. Tourism is an enormous industry, and an ever-growing popularity of travel is set to only grow this sector further. International tourist arrivals have increased from 25 million in 1950 to 1.32 billion in 2017. That is a huge number of people who are boarding planes, exploring new cultures, and spending hard-earned currency, in countries across the globe. So, that could be 1.32 billion people annually, making responsible choices, and positively impacting the planet through the business of their tourism. But is that just wishful thinking? 

For me, travelling sustainably has become the way in which I travel, automatically seeking the most ethical, responsible options, in order to meet my tourist needs. You don’t have to pay a fortune in order to access the more ethical choices, in fact, I have found it is often the complete opposite. By following a responsible route, I often avoid the overpriced, heavily marketed options which seem to bombard mainstream tourism avenues, and instead opt for the more fairly-priced alternatives, knowing that I am contributing to a more responsible tourism revenue.

When thinking about our beautiful green planet, it is often simple steps that we can take, in order to minimise our impact, much like those we use in our everyday life. From bringing your own water bottle, to disposing of your litter properly, we can all be a little more aware of what we leave behind. As well as leaving behind, I believe it is important to be aware of the impact of the things we may be tempted to take away. Picking up natural items, such as flowers, rocks, coral, may seem insignificant and harmless…until everyone does it. Let’s learn to appreciate natural beauty where it is, in nature. Take a photo, absorb the view visually, but when you leave, leave it behind. As the saying goes: take only memories, leave only footprints.

Following on from not picking up natural items, let’s expand that to the purchase of buying keepsakes made from animal products. Ivory, concha shells, shark teeth – no matter how much you wish it, the fact is that these are not by-products, nor are they sustainably sourced. I’d prefer to see an elephant with its tusks in-tact, than carry the guilt of an illegally sourced trinket. Again, let’s leave those ‘materials’ to the animals that own them.

Whilst exploring South America, I had many a chance to get up close and personal with their abundance of wildlife. However, I did not once pay for an enforced encounter in an unnatural environment. In Bolivia, visiting the rainforest in Rurrenabaque is a highlight of many a traveller’s itinerary. Here, you can “experience guaranteed animal encounters” – swimming with the famous pink river dolphins, native to the Amazon. In reality, these dolphins are herded, corralled, and bribed with food, so that travellers can enjoy this ‘natural’ adventure. No part of that sounds natural to me. Upon researching this, I decided to take myself to another part of the rainforest entirely, a little-visited town called Trinidad. Here I tracked down the only local tour guide, and had one of the most incredible, authentic experiences I could have asked for. An initial sighting of pink dolphins at quite some distance in the boat, left me feeling pretty chuffed. It wasn’t until later, during a spontaneous mud-bath in the river shallows, that I had my real breath-taking experience, as an entire shoal of dolphins swam past, and around me. I have not a single photo to prove my encounter, but I will cherish the memory, knowing that I was a lucky girl, who just happened to witness this natural beauty. That, is how I like my wildlife encounters.

Being socially and culturally aware is a concept which can completely change your experience. I am a firm believer that you get out of an experience what you put in, and this can be greatly affected, both negatively and positively, depending on how you react to and respect the culture around you. With social cues embedded within gesture and language, it doesn’t hurt to brush up on a few basics, before even stepping foot on a plane. In the next blog post, I will explain further how learning a language opened up a totally different side of travelling for me, so be sure to check back in.

Taking photos is a huge part of tourism, and a beautiful way to record and cherish your memories. Of course, capturing the local culture, is a great way to truly reflect on your time, and photographing people encapsulates the real essence of travel. Personally, I am terrible at remembering to take photos, as I often am too wrapped up in the present moment to remember to whip out my camera. But for those of you who do, make sure to always ask permission, and respect individuals if their answer is no. There is no gratification in sneaking a photo of somebody who doesn’t want to be snapped.

I have made a personal choice to not support tours which teeter on the border of ‘poverty porn’, whereby tourists can pay money for a tour of favelas (as in Brazil), or of poor working conditions (as in Potosi, Bolivia), in order to gawp at those less fortunate. For me, I see no benefit of witnessing individuals going about their daily life, with the highlight being ‘look, how bad is this’. I am aware that there are organisations where tour money goes directly into community projects and improvements, or supports local employment. I fully support, and encourage tourists to embrace, these types of organisations, but strongly recommend researching all options, as often the most readily available, are not the most responsible.

With the global travel and tourism industry providing approximately 11% of the world’s employment in 2016, this is a sector which is woven into livelihoods and local economies worldwide. I am not much of a planner when it comes to travelling, but for those of you who do use tour agencies, or holiday companies, try to choose those which employ local people, support small businesses, offset their carbon emissions, and perhaps support local charitable organisations. When finding accommodation, websites which collate hundreds of search results are fantastic, but charge commission fees for those that book via their website. I always book direct, which ensures that small guesthouses or hotels receive 100% of your fee, without having to pay commission. When buying souvenirs, be sure to not fall prey to mass-produced (often imported) items, instead, support local crafts by buying direct from the artisan – bearing in mind the points made above about sustainable materials.

Of course, it is important to remember that tourism doesn’t only happen when you leave the country. Tourism within the UK is an equally substantial industry, and we can implement all the steps above right here, on our doorsteps. While I believe few people set out to intentionally travel irresponsibly, I think for many, there is a lack of awareness of the impact of their actions or decisions. Sometimes, we just need a little perspective, a gentle reminder, and a nudge down the correct path.

Author: Rachel Calnan

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