Dealing With The Language Barrier

Last Updated on June 9, 2015

When you’re traveling to different countries, it is impossible to learn so much of so many languages during your travels, especially if you are only stopping through for a short time. You don’t have to be fluent in a language to be able to successfully be introduced to the different customs, cultures and ways of life.

It is a lot easier than you may realize to travel abroad successfully without being fluent in multiple languages. Never expect that those around you be fluent in English. However, you will find that in a lot of cases, locals do know some broken english as it is important to their tourism. But, venture outside of the common tourist areas, and you could find yourself in a completely different situation.

Here are ten tips that will help you get by in situations you may find language barriers:

Learn A Few Phrases

It is important to know the basics: please, hello, bye, thank you. Knowing how to politely and properly greet someone will take you a long way. The locals will appreciate your efforts and it will give you confidence when needing to approach someone for something.

Keep A Thick Skin

Regardless of how much you try, you may still find that some people will always treat travellers like they are nothing more than a huge annoyance. We have come across very few people like this, but they do exist and can make life very frustrating – just smile and move on.

Carry A Phrasebook Or Translation App

If you are stuck trying to communicate with something, a phrase book or translation app will surely help you to get your point across. You’ll find that even a small, simple book will come in handy.

Using Body Language and Hand Gestures

As long as you find out what gestures are seen as inappropriate in different countries, you’ll be able to help yourself if you can show those around you what you need with hand gestures.You may end up looking silly in some cases, but you will likely get your point across, while you make the person smile and laugh. Use your best judgement and use gestures wisely.

Speak Slowly

Choose easy, simple words and talk slowly. The more clearly you are able to speak, the better chance there is of you being properly understood. Don’t complicate words with contractions or slang words, that may make what you are saying hard to understand. Keep it as simple as possible to avoid extra confusion. Try to use few words as possible. If you’re asking someone to take your photo, all you have to say is “photo?” instead of “Can you take my photo?”. Remember that you do not always need to string together words to form sentences.

Don’t Shout

Don’t shout at locals while you’re speaking to them. It may come across as insulting, especially when you are trying to talk slowly to be understood. They just don’t understand your language, speaking louder is not going to change that.

Use Internationally Understood Words

Even the simplest words like washroom or restroom will bring about blank stares. It is best to use words that will be widely understood. In the case of needing a bathroom, “toilet?” would best used. If your car breaks down, don’t explain in detail about your broken car, just use a simple phrase such as “Auto kaput” and it will get your point across.

Adapt To The Culture

Learning about a country’s customs can really help you adapt when you’re having difficulty with language barriers. The locals will appreciate your effort and if you show the right level of respect for their customs and culture, they will warm up to you.

Know What Language Is Spoken

There can be several different languages within a country, so ensure you know what language is spoken where you will be visiting. The last thing you would want is to antagonize people with a language they do not use and may not like.

Research The Destination

There have been plenty of people that have been there before you. What have they said about language barriers and how they overcame it? Reading about the insight others have gained can really help you prepare for what is ahead. Also, remembering and realizing that other people have been in the same uncomfortable situation of not knowing how to communicate can help to ease your anxiety about it.

Always remember…

Though it may seem difficult at times when you’re faced with a completely different language, and alphabet for that matter, remember that the people of the countries you are visiting are usually just as interested in you as you are of them. Don’t let the fear of not knowing a language hold you back from experiencing different cultures and ways of life. Seeing the different ways that people approach every day life around the world is absolutely fascinating. Don’t miss out.

What are some experiences you have had with language barriers?