Even the differences between American and English English can cause pause. Sometimes I catch myself translating, or wondering in what context I count as a 'native speaker.' Nearly every experience is translated in retelling to some extent. But in a foreign space you start to value even more the instant understanding of a shared dialect or experience, the moments you don't need to translate. You notice when you alter your phrases for each audience, remembering when this word doesn’t have the same connotations for that person. You pick up on the subtle terms that distinguish each person's dialect (almost as much as the accent).
The experience is a bit more extreme in a foreign language, when you try out different words and see what works in translation. In the early stages, limited in grammar and structure, you try to cobble concrete things together (food, toilet, map?). It's exciting when you later on realize that your phrases are flowing with more confidence, that it feels less like translation and more like communication. Travel has impressed on me how important language comprehension is to feel integrated in any location. The pause for translation, be it cultural or linguistic, can offer a lot of humor and delight, but it can also trip you up, or leave you feeling alien.
But no matter the pitfalls, learning and being exposed to the contrast between languages is fascinating. You start appreciating the depth of words and their roots, as well as their interconnectedness in related languages. When I look for the Spanish, Italian, French, English, or German word for the same object, they are usually similar to one or another: lit, letto; bonjour, buongiorno; bon, bene, bueno. Gut, good. It certainly comes in handy for moments like trying to make a train in Spain; I was able to make some headway (and successfully board the train) with frantic Italian.
The divergences are fascinating, too, because they reveal each language or culture's interpretation of same thing. Brazilians call brass knuckles an ‘English punch’ (soco Inglês), but the French call them an ‘American fist’ (poing américain). Seems like the Anglo world has definitely earned a reputation for violence...
Another example: English and French both have idioms derived from same La Fontaine fable – but they take the form of different phrases. The story goes that a monkey tricked a cat into grabbing hot roasting chestnuts from the fire for him; the monkey got the reward and the cat a singed paw. The English “catspaw” (dupe) is thus directly related to the French “tirer les marrons du feu" - literally, to take chestnuts out of the fire, but meaning 'to benefit from duping others.'* Does their different grammar - noun vs. active verb phrase - have cultural significance? How about the different parts of the story they chose to highlight - the paw, or the chestnuts? The poor, stupid cat, or the action itself? I'm sure I could shoehorn some cultural assumptions in here, but I wouldn't want to reduce it to stereotypes. I'm happy to ponder word-incidents like these and their multiplicity of meanings. I'll let someone else be the catspaw.
*C’est un bon jeu de chat et singe was another early version ('a good game of cat and monkey').