Nowadays English has become so commonly spoken and understood that people forget the world is made of roughly 6,500 languages and about 4,000 of them have thousands and millions of speakers. International travel is now relatively easier for native English speakers or even for those who know a couple of languages such as English, Spanish or Mandarin Chinese, but let’s face it, not all of us have the foreign languages bug. So how should you overcome a language barrier if your interlocutor does not understand you or you don’t understand him? Here is a compilation of tips for triumphing over language barriers.
Learn a few words or phrases in the language
This simple courtesy will get you so far! If you are travelling to a place where language might be an issue for you, the best way to overcome language barriers is to learn a few key words and phrases. People are more willing to help you find the nearest market or hotel –or whatever you need- if they see that you are making a genuine effort to communicate in their language.
Making a conscious effort to try and learn from locals is an even better idea if you haven’t had the time to prepare in advance.
Use language apps
If you are a digital savvy type of person, you will definitely like this tip! If you find yourself in a country where you cannot decipher the language, allow apps to come to your rescue. Make sure your phone is equipped with Google Translate, Lonely Planet’s Fast Talk app or try WayGo app, a fun visual application which translates photo text.
If you are determined to use your English skills, avoid slang! Limit your vocabulary by using exclusively internationally understood words, because you surely won’t be understood if you start calling everybody “sham” [Irish slang –means “dude”].
There is a funny old saying which goes something like this: My hands are sore due to so much talking. It basically means that, when you don’t know a certain language, you start to gesticulate frantically as if your interlocutor will magically understand what you are saying. Raising your voice at the person who has taken their time to try and help you is another bad idea, so try communicating in another way or try articulating that word or phrase you have been rehearsing prior to your trip.
Illustrations are your best friend
When your phone is dead and your brain does not want to cooperate with you, use pictures [prepared beforehand] as a way to translate what you are trying to say. If you have allergies, make sure you carry photos of things that hurt your health or, better yet, carry around a small notebook so you can draw what you want to say.
You don’t need to be an artist to reveal your artistic skills, but if you think you can’t even draw a straight line, it’s time to pull out the big guns: your inner mime!
Check if they speak English
This is a no-brainer for experienced travellers, but it’s something we all tend to forget when the unfamiliarity of a certain place makes us homesick. Find out if your interlocutor speaks English before you start stumbling in the local language; you might be surprised to see how many people speak English even in the most remote places in the world.
Show respect for the local culture
If you have the travel bug, you should already know this! Every country is unique and fascinating and you can learn a lot from local people if you act in accordance with their customs. If you show them you know how to behave, speak and even gesticulate accordingly, no one is going to say “no” to you.
If you don’t know where to find all the necessary information and tips about travel etiquette, go to Quora –it has all the answers you need.