Birders often speak a different language with scientific species names, birding acronyms and specialized vocabulary terms like aerie, hyperphagia and speculum, but how do different languages say "bird" – the most important word in a birder's vocabulary?
Bird Is the Word
Bird is a basic vocabulary term in many languages. Depending on their birding destination and the languages spoken there, some of the most widespread languages birders might want to be familiar with (including the phonetic pronunciation in parentheses) include:
- Afrikaans – voël (fooo-el)
- Albanian – zog (zog - rhymes with fog)
- Arabic – طائر (BAH-eee-ruhn)
- Bosnian – ptica (puh-TEEET-za)
- Chinese – 鸟 (neee-ow - rhymes with meow)
- Danish – fugl (fooo-luh)
- Dutch – vogel (fall-hull)
- English – bird (berd)
- Finnish – lintu (LEEEN-to)
- French – oiseau (wahs-zoh)
- German – vogel (FOH-gul)
- Greek – πουλί (pooo-lee)
- Haitian Creole – zwazo (zwa-zoh)
- Hebrew – ציפור (tsee-poor)
Hungarian – madár (muh-DAAR)
Indonesian – burung (booo-rooong)
- Irish – èan (eee-in - like the boy's name Ian)
- Italian – uccello (ooo-CHELLO - rhymes with Jell-O)
- Japanese –鳥 (toh-reee)
Korean –새 (say-ih)
Latin – avem (AH-vehm)
- Polish – ptak (pTAHK)
- Portuguese – pàssaro (PAH-serr-ooo)
- Romanian – pasăre (pah-sah-rey)
- Russian – птица – (puh-teee-suh)
- Spanish – pàjaro (pah-hah-roh)
- Swahili – ndege (nay-gay)
- Swedish – fågel (foh-gel)
- Thai - นก (nyoh)
- Turkish – kuş (koosh)
- Vietnamese – chim (jeeem)
- Welsh – adar (AH-dehruy)
In addition to just saying the word "bird" it may also be useful to learn simple names for birds, such as duck, hawk, heron, crane, pigeon, sparrow or similar species.
These birds are likely to be familiar to birders and non-birders alike, and can help convey a joy of birding even through the thickest language barrier.
When traveling with other experienced birders, it is important to also be familiar with the scientific names of birds. "Robin" may mean vastly different species in North America, Europe, Australia or other parts of the world, but Turdus migratorius, Erithacus rubecula and Petroica rodinogaster are names of specific robins that can always be understood in their scientific forms, which is essential for accurate identification and listing.
Birding in a Different Language
Just knowing one or two words is not enough to enjoy birding in a different language without guidance. It is not necessary, however, to be a fluent speaker of multiple languages and dialects to go birding somewhere your native language is not commonly spoken. Birding tour companies always arrange for appropriate guides, including those who are able to communicate in multiple languages that will be familiar to tour guests. Birders should ask about language options and potential interpreters when choosing a birding tour to ensure they can communicate comfortably.
Knowing some conversational phrases and basic vocabulary in a different language can help birders who travel extensively. Birders who plan to visit countries that speak different languages should learn several important phrases before traveling, including:
- Hello / Good morning / Good afternoon / Good evening
- Please / Thank You
- Yes / No
- Excuse me / Pardon me
- Where is… (restroom, exit, taxi, restaurant, hotel, street name, etc.)
- My name is…
- Do you speak… (English or another familiar language)
- Do you accept... (credit card or other payment form)
- I do not understand
These simple phrases can help birders orient themselves and ask for help if necessary.
Adding a language phrasebook, translation dictionary or reliable pocket translator to a field bag is also a great idea for international birding. If there is enough time before traveling, taking a few conversational lessons or using computer software or instructional websites to begin learning a new language can also be helpful. The more a traveler understands, the more enjoyable the trip will be.
More Ways to Communicate
It is also important to remember that a great deal of communication does not rely on language at all. Body language, facial expressions and hand gestures can be helpful for communicating in foreign languages, even if birders don't speak a single word. Make eye contact when trying to communicate, and use different items to indicate meaning if necessary, such as showing a piece of hotel stationary when asking for directions or showing a field guide to ask about a nearby bird.
Shrugs, nods, head shakes, pointing or simple, familiar miming or mimicking actions can also help convey meanings if necessary.
No matter what language is spoken on a birding tour, the most polite way a birder can speak is to just speak naturally. Exaggerated speaking that is much louder and slower when one does not understand the language is impolite and derogatory, but simply trying to communicate properly and making an effort can be appreciated, even if the language is unfamiliar.