“Oh my gosh, does anyone on this bus speak English? This is so frustrating. Humph!” There is nothing like witnessing someone yell at a bus full of people in Beijing, China for not speaking English. Luckily for her, I was there to offer help.
Here are nine tips to help you overcome language barriers when traveling.
Before traveling, you should know the official language of the country that you are visiting. Even if they speak English, is that the official language? When researching the common language, it is also good practice to research nonverbal communication and differences. Non-verbal communication can vary from culture to culture, and a little bit of research can save you from an embarrassing or harmful situation.
2. Use Technology
There are many apps that you can use to translate languages when traveling. I have personally used google translate, and I will not travel without it. You can either type or speak into the app, and it will translate your words into over 100 languages. The process is straightforward, and you can quickly overcome any language-related obstacles that you are facing.
3. Learn Common Words & Phrases
Learning common words & phrases is a must! You will not only feel more connected to the culture, but you will feel more at ease, and when a local sees that you are trying, they are more eager to help. You do not need to be fluent, but your goal is to be able to speak common words and phrases in the most used language of that country. You will come across as polite, and you will win the respect of locals.
Common phrases that are good to know:
How Do I Get to
My Name is
What is Your Name
How much is This
Where is The Bathroom (or Toilet)
Learning common words is a sure way to enhance your experience.
4. Pocket Dictionary
A pocket dictionary may seem outdated, but if you are spending an extended amount of time in a country, you may want to carry a pocket dictionary. This will be beneficial if you are trying to become proficient in the language you are learning. Also, if your phone dies, you will still be able to communicate when needed.
When having communication issues, you can become frustrated rather quickly. What you want to do is remain calm and speak slow and clear. Yelling will not help you. If you are talking to someone that speaks little English (or your native language), you should use basic words and keep it simple. If they are trying, it is best to work with them, and remember that you are having the issue, NOT them.
6. Write it Down
Important words and phrases that you need to recall repeatedly should be written down. It is best to have a paper copy and an electronic copy. Some important things to write down are hotel names, addresses, phone numbers, and names of guides and drivers.
7. Use Pictures
If you need something simple and have a picture that can assist, this is a great option. If you are trying to find something popular such as McDonald’s, V&A Waterfront, or the Louvre Museum, you can show someone the picture and gesture with your hands showing that you need help. The person you are communicating with will understand that you cannot speak their language, and in need of help. I have used this tool many times. It worked 100% of the time.
8. Leverage a Local
Do you have a friend that lives in the city that you are visiting? They can help you communicate and improve your skills. By using a friend, you will have very few to no communication issues. Of course, but doing this, you may not learn the language, but learning the language may not be your goal. My friend Rachel was a lifesaver when I was in Cuba. She made my trip simple, and I was able to enjoy myself without worrying about how to communicate.
9. Take a Language Class
If you will be in the country long-term, or you are considering moving, it may be beneficial to take a language class. This can be done in a traditional classroom setting, or by buying a program like Rosetta Stone.
International Travel Fears #4 | 9 Tips to Overcome Language Barriers When Traveling
I hope my tips offer assistance when you take your next trip. Have you ever faced a language barrier? How did you overcome it?