Traveling internationally can be eye-opening, rewarding and unforgettable. It can also be challenging and frustrating at times. One of the largest hurdles travelers face when entering a new country is the language barrier. Luckily, there are ways you can prepare yourself to jump that hurdle. Here are 10 tips to help you beat the language barrier on your next international getaway.
Know the basics
Before you head out on your adventure, learn a few basic words like hello, good-bye, please and thank you. Locals like to see that you are trying. Phrase books are good resources, along with language-learning apps like Duolingo. Duolingo allows you to learn vocabulary and common phrases via short lessons and assessments for more than 25 languages. It is available for download on iPhone, Android, and Windows devices. You should also write down the names of your hotel accommodations and the cities you’re visiting if you are unsure of their pronunciations. This is particularly helpful when trying to tell a taxi driver where you need to go.
Don’t shout, and slow it down
Don't shout. Raising your voice to someone who doesn’t speak your language won’t help that person understand you any better. Although you may have good intentions, the person you’re speaking to might see you as imprudent or offensive. Slow down your speech and make it clear so that non-English speakers have the opportunity to catch some of your words. Be careful not to slow your speech so much that you start to change the emphasis on words.
Avoid idioms and slang
When speaking to someone who doesn’t fully understand your language, keep it simple. Stay away from idioms and any phrases that are culturally specific like “pedal to the metal” or “hit the hay.” Avoid using slang. Even if someone you speak with has spent his or her life studying English to gain a basic understanding, he or she isn’t likely to know the latest trendy word being tossed around. Avoid words like “dope” or “radical”.
Multiple words have multiple meanings. When you begin a conversation with someone, pay attention to the words you use. Using two different terms that have the same meaning, or synonyms, can be confusing. If you ask someone where you find medication, keep using the word medication in your conversation. Don’t switch to painkillers or ibuprofen or aspirin, especially if the person you are conversing with understood what you meant the first time.
Carry a notepad
Carry a pen and notepad when you’re traveling in a non-English speaking country. Many people who are familiar with English or are just starting to learn can understand things better on paper. Writing things down also eliminates any potential issues understanding strong regional accents, such as a southern accent or a Boston accent.
If your conversation isn’t going well, use your notepad to draw a picture. Looking for a taxi? Draw one! A notepad is a great tool for storing short and common phrases. Remember to take it with you everywhere.
Gestures, Gestures, Gestures
Although you may feel silly at times, hand gestures and movements can aid in your communication process. For example, if you’re looking for something to eat, pretend to scoop something out of a bowl. You may get a laugh or two, but you’ll get your point across. Being self-conscious will only hinder your attempt to break the barrier.
Never forget that pointing is extremely useful when ordering at a restaurant or looking for a specific place on a map. Gestures can be more powerful than words; however, be sure to do some research on common gestures in the country you’re visiting before you go. Some gestures that are positive in the US are offensive in other countries.
Be patient and kind
This tip may seem obvious, but it is significant. Language barriers can be frustrating, but showing your frustration won’t help your situation. People are more willing to help you when you make a mistake if you are gracious. Be respectful and refrain from doing things like laughing at another person when he or she is trying to speak English, rolling your eyes or raising your voice.
Download a translation app
Apps can be a big help if you need to translate a word quickly. Apps like Ultralingua and Google Translate are excellent resources. Although they aren’t perfectly accurate, they can make your conversations more successful. Both Ultralingua and Google Translate work offline. Simply download their language packs while Wi-Fi is available, and use them offline any time.
If apps just aren’t for you, carry a language dictionary. Language dictionaries come pocket-sized, making them easy to fit in your jeans or your purse. They are usually available online or at bookstores in the form of English definitions of words on one side and your desired language on the other.
Book a tour or hire a local
Not knowing a language can be stressful. One of the easiest ways to eliminate that stress is to book a full-length tour or hire a local to show you around. Someone who knows how to speak English and the local language can help you feel more at ease. If you choose to hire a local to guide you, you could come across more personal and unique sights and hangouts. ToursByLocals is a great resource for getting matched with an English-speaking local tour guide.
Research is your friend
Remember that someone like you has probably visited your planned destination before. There are hundreds of travel forums available for you to look through, like Travbuddy.com and Fodors.com. Search any initial questions you have and discover what people have said about the language barrier. If someone else has traveled to a country and gotten around without knowing the local language, you can, too. If you get frazzled in new settings easily, plan as much of your trip as you can ahead of time. You’ll have the chance to make reservations or schedule outings in English. Sometimes organization can be the best stress reliever