If you’re an avid traveler like me and you happen to tour at least a few countries every few months, there are bound to be times when you’ll encounter language barriers. Obviously, you can’t learn all the local languages of your travel destinations, even when we’re talking about national languages only!
So, what do you do when you encounter communication problems at your tour destination? We have a few tips for you:
1) Learn simple language basics
People at your travel destination will be much friendlier if they realize that you’re putting some effort in learning their language and communicating. Simple things like “Please”, “Hello” and “Thank you” can go a long way in helping you get along well. Also, know how to ask simple but very helpful questions like “Do you speak English?” or “Where is the washroom?” Some other useful phrases can include “My name is” or “I’m lost, please help.” Even if you don’t manage to get your message across perfectly good, you’re sure to get a positive reaction!
2) Bring along a phrasebook, and a notepad
For those useful phrases that you can’t cram, carry a phrasebook and a notepad. The phrasebook will help you when you need to look up specific phrases or decipher the meaning of something on your menu. With a notepad, you can write foreign words that are difficult to pronounce or draw pictures when seeking help to know the direction of the mountain to go hiking or a restaurant. Locals can also draw maps and directions on it for you. Even in this digital age you will find that a notepad is much more versatile and accessible than your smart phone.
3) Take advantage of technology
While notepad is crucial, technology has its perks, too. This includes your smartphone, online and offline apps, tools like Google Translate, Google Maps and GPS. While an app like Quest Visual can translate text in photos, street signs and menus, others like Jibbigo will help with audio translation from major world languages into English and vice versa. When you can’t read the signs, GPS can help you navigate around! If you don’t have one yet, check out special deals in Kohl’s and Discountrue coupons that will help you knock down the prices at many popular shops.
4) Write down crucial emergency information
Remember to also write down important information — in the local language — like the address of your hotel room and the contact information of your local contacts and your country’s embassy. In case of an emergency, it’ll be easier for a taxi driver, a local guide or even the general public in your tour area to help you get back to safety.
5) Learn to use hand gestures
Although there are lots of nearly universally-understood hand gestures that can help you when you want to get around, it’s also important to learn the local interpretations of some common gestures. For instance, in Bulgaria nodding means no while shaking your head means yes. Don’t make assumptions. Sometimes you may also be forced to flap arms like a chicken or moo like a cow to tell what kind of meat you want in a restaurant. Don’t be shy or fear appearing silly. In fact, it will only make your experience there all the more fun!
6) Don’t fear asking for help
Your concierge or front-desk receptionist can help you with lots of stuff – from directions to learning how to pronounce tricky words or translating a complicated phrase. Also, don’t be afraid to strike up a conversation with the locals. You can even exchange language lessons with them and in the process make new friends and future local contacts!
Remember, maths is the same in nearly every spot of our planet. Use phrases like “1 Coke” rather than “a Coke” to simplify language. Don’t be shy to use even the simplest of hand gestures and miming. Finally, don’t get stressed but rather think of the language barrier challenges as a part of your travel experiences and escapades, and enjoy the ride!