Note from Kris: This is a guest post from Daryl from “DoggyDreamTeam.co.uk” It's a bit left field for language learners, but I found his other piece “How an 8-day Dog Sitter Job Turned into a Full On Doggy Bromance” absolutely hilarious, so when Daryl reached out I invited him to contribute here free of charge.
Take it away, Daryl!
If you love linguistics, but hate formal lessons, why not learn new languages from our four-legged friends?
Yes, you too can learn to speak dog, or rather the language of their owner. For the linguophile with a wanderlust and passion for pets, then pet sitting is a “pawsome” way to learn language for next-to-no bucks.
This may sound barking mad, but learning language from pets is an actual bone-fide winner.
Think laterally about the language a dog speaks…not so much “Woof”, but the native language of their owner.
Whilst saying “Sit” comes naturally to English speakers, what do you say to a French pooch in Paris but “Asseoir?”
What Language Does the Dog Speak?
You see dogs are taught basic obedience in their owner’s native tongue. For the enterprising pet sitter who ventures abroad, this means learning those basic commands pretty quickly.
Siéntate, voltea, busca … ¡¿Quién es un buen chico!
Siediti, rollover, recupera … Chi è un bravo ragazzo !!!
(Sit, rollover, fetch…Who’s a good boy!!! For those who are wondering)
With necessity being the mother of invention, you’ll pick up the essentials in a few wags of the tail. Not to do so risks blank looks from your unusually unco-operative ward as they wander off across the dog park, seriously undermining your authority.
But the benefits of doing a Doctor Doolittle and conversing with pets goes far beyond giving commands in their native language.
Beyond Doctor Doolittle
What I’m talking about is seeing the world and learning language whilst pet sitting. The magic factor that makes all the difference are the pets themselves, especially dogs, because they need to be walked.
The dog owners out there won’t need to be told how easy it is to make friends when walking a fur-friend. With a handsome hound padding by your heel, it becomes the norm for perfect strangers to stop you in the street to talk. Now imagine yourself pet sitting abroad. You know no-one and yet have an instant ice-breaker and entry into conversation, right there on the end of the leash.
Moreover, when staying in the owner’s house to look after their pets, the neighbours and local walkers will all recognize the dog and say “Hi.” You can see where this is going. Before you know it they’re chatting about where you come from and how long you’re staying to look after the pets. From there it’s only a hop skip and a jump from questions to being invited into the group in a way that tourists or backpackers rarely are.
By sharing that common bond of a love of animals, in a few doggy heartbeats you’ll find yourself embraced as part of the local community. And there’s nothing quite like real life situations for forcing you out of your comfort zone to try unfamiliar words and expressions in order to be understood.
In my experience pet sitting never fails to disappoint on the great scale of life experiences. Take my first gig as an example, this turned from a simple dog sitting booking into an eight-day doggy bromance that I’ll never forget.
Pet Sitting Gigs
If this all sounds great but you lack friends abroad, never fear. There are heaps of people out there looking for a Yin to their Yang. The mutually beneficial arrangement of pet sitting, means the owner provides accommodation (usually free of charge in their own home) in return for the sitter taking responsible care of their pets and houseplants in their absence.
This means not only do you get to practice your language skills, but this is an amazingly affordable, budget-friendly way to explore the world. Indeed, openings exist everywhere from lakeside residences in Austria, to city pads in Barcelona, mountain retreats in the Pyrenes to vineyards in France, and beyond.
There are several ways to find your first placement. You can either put relevant terms into an internet search engine, or, if you want the reassurance that the client has been vetted before you arrive, try one of the agencies that meet supply and demand for house and pet sitters.
These agencies either focus on a specific country (where is it you’re burning to visit?) or may be based in your home country but seek sitters worldwide. I found my first placement via Trusted House sitters. This site and others similar ones do take references and also ask for a feedback rating from both parties. As you get more positive feedback, you can apply with confidence to sit in some of the more exotic or unusual venues.
Of course, there is competition for the best placements (and with gorgeous locations and free accommodation this is to be expected.) To stand out from the crowd it’s helpful to have experience with pets, such as owning your own animals or having worked with them. Also, some training in pet first aid is a bonus, as is coming across as an avid animal lover.
Say “Yes, Oui, Ja” to Real Life Experiences
Pet sitting!!! You have to try it. Learning language should be about experiencing life and having a good time whilst you do it. Say “No, non, nien,” to sitting in a classroom with dry, dusty textbooks. Instead get out there with a Frisbee and a fur-friend to learn languages in the real world, with all its sights, sounds, smells, and opportunities…
Yes, the dog may understand more of language than you do, but don’t let that stop you. After all, one of the reasons we love dogs so much is that they don’t judge.
I’d like to take this opportunity to thank Kris for his encouragement and the opportunity to share my passion with you, his followers.
There you have it, folks! If you love learning languages and travelling, look into pet- or house-sitting for opportunities to stay for free abroad!