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A funny thing happened on the drive to the FGIA Summer Conference. I was in a car heading from the airport to the beautiful Le Westin Montreal, our host hotel for the event. The driver of the car spoke only French, and I speak only English. I knew we were traveling to French-speaking Canada, so I had studied the travel-size copy of Rick Steves’ French Phrase and Dictionary my dad loaned me before my trip. And, of course, the second I needed some common French phrases, anxiety sent them all away from my mind.

My very kind driver and I barely spoke on the drive, but when he pulled in front of the hotel to drop me off, he turned around and said: “You are welcome.” I perked up and said, “Merci!” We both laughed, because we knew this exchange was backward. But we tried!

Once I got to the hotel, I realized I could use Google Translate, whether it involved speaking into the app, typing one language into it or even translating text from images on my phone. This was a game changer, as many signs throughout the hotel and the whole city were exclusively in French. While this technology has been around for years now, this was the first time I was able to truly benefit from it. For all our complaints about tech issues and smart phone addiction, I must admit, it’s kind of a modern miracle that we can now so freely communicate with others even when we don’t speak the same language.

At this last conference, we were proud to offer two French language sessions thanks to FGIA’s partnership with Association de vitrerie et fenestration du Québec (AVFQ). It was a nice nod to our host city as well as a reflection of our growing international membership.

That said, next time I travel abroad, I might try Duolingo for several weeks before I go! Because that app teaches both pronunciation and listening comprehension, it may have been more effective than reading my book of French phrases. Plus, I can do it all from my phone. Au revoir!