Not knowing the language should never stop you from traveling. Sir Richard Burton once said that the gladdest moments in human life are departures into unknown lands. When you travel, not only are the lands unknown but often the language is, too.
Language barriers exist everywhere you go, even in your home country. It’s knowing how to handle them that dictates your experience. If you learn how to embrace these barriers, your travels will go much smoother.
Before you jump on the plane for your next adventure, study up. Keep reading for the best tips to avoid experiencing a language barrier during your travels.
1. Study Before You Go
Every traveler should learn some of the language of the country they’re going to. It’s common courtesy to learn how to communicate with the locals, even just a little.
Some words and phrases you must know are:
- Hello and goodbye
- Please and thank you
- Where is…?
- I need help
Learning the basic small talk phrases can be helpful. Simply asking someone how they are, starts a conversation that can turn into a friendship.
That’s what traveling’s all about, right? Meeting new people and having new experiences.
To learn the language, consider signing up for a language course or hiring a tutor. You could also watch lessons on YouTube or download a free language-learning app like Duolingo.
2. Download a Translation Tool
There are many helpful translation tools you can download to your smartphone while you travel. These tools will help you if you’re in a pinch and need on-the-spot translation.
One of which is iTranslate. This app can help you translate over 100 different languages from your smartphone. If you pay for the premium version, you can use it offline and use voice mode.
Google Translate is another useful tool for translation when traveling.
One of its coolest features is that you can point the camera at a sign in another language, and the app will translate it. This is incredibly helpful when you’re lost in Tokyo and can’t read the street signs.
3. Use Plain Language
Sometimes when you travel, locals will try to communicate in your language. English is widely spoken globally, so you’ll often come across people who want to brush up on their speaking skills.
In this situation, embrace it. If you were practicing another language, you’d want the person you’re speaking with to be patient and kind.
Remember to use plain language and layman’s terms. Slang and idioms don’t always translate well or comprehensively.
Get comfortable with repeating yourself and talking slower. If you’re respectful in English perhaps they’ll be respectful in Spanish.
4. Hire an Onsite Translator
This tip is super important if you’re traveling for business. Networking and making small talk are big parts of working overseas. You need to build positive relationships which requires accurate communication.
Hiring an onsite interpreter or translator can make your meetings more efficient and miscommunication-free.
This also applies to doing business with people in your own country that don’t speak your language. Or, those with hearing impairments. Sign language interpretations from a professional can be handy.
5. Use Visual Aids
If explaining yourself repeatedly isn’t getting what you want to say across, use visuals. Locals might not know what you’re trying to say, but they might understand a diagram.
An example would be if you’re trying to get somewhere, like a doctor’s office, but don’t know how to ask in the native language.
Break out your notepad and draw a picture of a hospital cross on top of a building. Perhaps add in an ambulance or a doctor with a stethoscope. That will likely get the message across.
Visual aids can fill in the gaps where your language speaking is lacking. Always have a notepad and pen handy. Or, carry a local map with you so you can point to where you want to go.
6. Use Appropriate Gestures
Do you remember when Bella Hadid posted that picture of her feet up at an airport in Saudi Arabia? Without knowing it, she offended an entire country who believes showing the bottom of your feet is a sign of disrespect.
You don’t want to make this mistake or even one similar to it when you travel.
Before you go, research what gestures or positions may be offensive in the country you’re visiting.
For example, crossing your fingers is a gesture of good luck and hopefulness in America. In Vietnam, it’s equivalent to sticking up the middle finger.
In some middle eastern countries, giving the thumbs up is the same as saying, “up yours!”
Gestures are an important part of how we communicate. But, make sure yours aren’t saying something you don’t mean to.
7. Be Respectful
This tip applies to every language barrier situation. If you’re the traveler who doesn’t know the language, respect the new words you learn. Even if they sound funny to you, they belong to the culture of the people you’re visiting.
When someone is trying to learn your language, be respectful. Be patient, generous, and resourceful. Never mock someone who is trying to learn your language.
And, when traveling, if someone doesn’t want to help you learn the language (looking at you, Paris), that’s okay, too. It’s no one’s job to teach you the language; it’s your job to prepare yourself with phrases you’ll need to know.
Interested in Learning More Ways to Overcome a Language Barrier?
One of the best parts of traveling is learning about different cultures. Language is a huge component of culture that you should invest time into learning.
No matter where you are in the world, there could be a language barrier. Use the tips above to overcome the barrier and become a more worldly human.
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