World travel is designed to take us outside our own personal comfort zones and embrace the unfamiliar. However, when you visit a country where you don’t speak the local tongue, there are certain things that you should consider.
1. Learn 10 basic words
Before going to visit, it’s important to learn the basic pleasantries of the local language. You’d be surprised by how much learning how to say “hello,” “goodbye,” “thank you,” and even “Where is the restroom?” will add to your travel experience. Even if you only know “Hello” and “Thank you,” knowing those two phrases in advance is a great way to make friends with the locals.
2. Use a translator app
If you find yourself in a situation where you need to talk to someone who doesn’t speak a word of English, you can bridge the language gap by simply asking your conversation partner to speak into your phone’s microphone.
3. Use hand gestures
Sometimes pointing is more useful than speaking. In order to make sure the person you’re speaking to knows what you’re referring to, it’s often easier just to point to what you want instead of having it lost in translation. Hand gestures in general, such as thumbs up and nodding your head are also handy to use when you’re communicating to someone in a foreign country. Just make sure you read up on the appropriate gestures for the country you’re visiting ahead of time because some gestures that are considered appropriate in North America are considered disrespectful in other countries around the world.
4. Show expression
Another good way to get over any language barriers you might experience is by using lots of facial expressions. Sometimes all it takes is a simple smile to get your point across.
5. Use the GPS and download your maps offline
Not being able to speak the language isn’t the only obstacle you’ll encounter overseas. You also likely won’t be able to read the street signs. In order to ensure you can still get from point A to B, a pro tip is to download all necessary maps using the airport Wi-Fi and then you have them cached for the rest of your trip.
6. Common courtesy goes a long way
The reality is that no matter how much you prepare for your trip in advance, you will likely still find a way to accidentally say the wrong thing or do something you shouldn’t have. The best way to ensure these situations are handled properly is by exercising proper etiquette and by being respectful.
7. Make friends with the concierge
Afraid you’re butchering the local language? Ask your friendly concierge. Most people who work in the hospitality industry know some English, so they’re a great resource for all travellers experiencing a certain level of culture shock!
8. Prepare for strange looks
If you’re afraid of embarrassment, you’ll have to get over that fairly quickly while you’re travelling. As you get accustomed to the local language and the culture there are bound to be moments where you accidentally humiliate yourself. The trick is not to take yourself seriously. Take everything as a learning experience and then you won’t let you pride get in the way of you having a great time on your trip!
9. Have important hotel details and contact information written in the local language
This is a basic travel safety tip. Having personal details about where you’re staying on a card in your wallet will allow locals to identify you in case of an emergency. It’s also handy to show cab drivers who are less than proficient in English so you know they’re taking you to the right place.
10. Be patient and observe
Sometimes our first instinct when we’re uncomfortable or if we think we’re a little in over our head is to get flustered and ask a lot of questions. When you first arrive in a foreign country, your best strategy is just to listen and observe. Take a step back to absorb the culture and see where that take you!