It is worrisome to travel to a foreign country without knowing anything about its language. Language barriers is one of the reasons why some people do not want to visit other countries where English is not spoken.
It is said that traveling enhances your awareness of other cultures and language is part of a country’s culture. But it is not possible to learn a language each time you visit a new country. Even polyglots would not be able to fare well if the languages they knows are not spoken in that country.
Communication is important especially when you are in another country because it will help you to get around, shop and avail of services. How will you manage to communicate if locals do not speak the language that you know?
One of the most common advice is to bring a phrasebook with you and learn some of the usual phrases and words before leaving your home country. A trusty phrasebook should not be forgotten but since this is the digital age, you can find many free online translation tools to help you with the local language – from useful words and phrases to translation of menus, signs and more. Moreover, most popular tourist destinations have tourist-friendly centers where hospitality staff members are conversant in English.
Discover the usefulness of other types of languages
Even if you do not know the local language, remember that there are other types of ”languages” that you can utilize. Words are effective but there are other forms of languages that are more universal as you can see.
Be prepared to use non-verbal communication
These tips might be of help to you so you’ll have a more enjoyable stay despite the language barriers in a foreign country.
1. Point at items you are interested in
Pointing is more effective than some words. It is also a very simple gesture that conveys a message quickly. For example, menus often have pictures of the food the restaurants serve. Other food shops have glass cases where the items they sell are shown, so it is easy to just point at the item you want to order. You can also point at items in other stores or destinations on a map therefore you’ll be able to shop or go to tourist spots. Locals are often helpful to foreigners, so do not be afraid to approach a local to seek help.
To remind you about hand and other body gestures:
It is important to keep in mind that you should observe the do’s and don’ts about pointing and using your fingers when pointing at people and objects that are observed in the country. In Bulgaria, shaking the head indicates ”yes” while nodding means ”no,” which is the reverse in the United States and other countries. Likewise, you should learn the pointing protocols in the country you are about to visit. Some countries are fine using a forefinger. Others use the whole hand to point at something or someone.
2. Know that math is the same everywhere
Math is a universal language. Price tags indicate the prices, so you can still compute the amount of items you bought or consumed. Instead of memorizing the local terms for the numbers, you can use hand gestures to indicate the numbers. Although saying ”a bottle of water” is easy to understand, it is far better to say ”1 (bottle of) water.”
3. Download offline map and activate your GPS
Although Internet is widespread in many tourist destinations, you might be in areas where Wi-Fi is not available. What you can do is download maps of the places included in your itinerary and store them on your phone. Even if GPS would not work due to lack of Internet access, you’ll still be able to navigate around since you have offline maps with you, in a language that you understand.
4. Online translators can be useful as well
Most online translators get a bad rap because they are ineffective in providing the right nuances of a language, but that cannot be helped because only human translators can do that. However, since you are only after the translation of words and probably short phrases, an online language app can be useful as a phrasebook but not for complex translations. It is still wise to check an actual phrasebook just to make sure that you are getting the right translation.
5. Do not forget courtesy and etiquette
Even if you have studied the customs and traditions of the country you are visiting, there is still the slim chance that you are going to make a mistake. It does not matter how much preparation you make, there would be situations where you might not know what to do or say. The only thing you have to remember when this happens is courtesy.
Displaying courtesy helps diffuse tense situations. Locals, even if you do not know the language, would respond to common courtesy and a warm smile. Even if you use your own language, Thank you, Please, I’m sorry, Excuse me are universally understood. However, it would be better if you can learn to say them in the local language. It becomes music to the ears of locals when you say delicious and thank you after you’ve eaten in a restaurant. (It’s also important to learn tipping customs beforehand. In some places, like Japan, tipping is not mandatory because the Japanese are proud of what they do and they do it to serve their guests, locals and foreigners alike. They expect courtesy and respect instead).
Do not forget common greetings as well such as Good morning, Good afternoon, Good evening, Goodnight, Hello, Goodbye and See you (later, soon, in a while).
6. Bring a dictionary with you
If you have learned the local language but are still hesitant to speak because of limited vocabulary, improve your learning with a dictionary. You can look at it while going around the tourist spots. Look for one that has two vocabulary entries – English words with definitions in the local language and local words into English. You might also want to check a picture dictionary if it is going to be helpful to you.
7. Don’t forget pen and paper
The simplest way to communicate is by using pen and paper. In the rare chance that you forgot your cell phone, ran out of battery or you are in a dead spot, there is no Wi-Fi and you do not have your phrase book or your dictionary, what would you do? It is important to have pen and paper with you at all times. You can use them to write down names and addresses and even use them to draw an image of what you want to eat perhaps, if you do not know how to pronounce the name. A pen and paper are tools that you should not forget to have in your bag or wallet.
8. Develop new friends and teach one another
Practice speaking the language you have learned or are still learning when you’re in the foreign country. You’ll learn better and faster if you practice with a local. Develop friendship with a local who is willing to teach you his or her language while you teach them your language. In many destinations especially in some parts of Asia, college students are eager to learn or practice their English language skills and are willing to teach their language as well.
9. Memorize some of the important phrases
You might be having a difficult time pronouncing the local language, but making an attempt endears you to the locals and you might find yourself not only guided in the right direction but gained a friend at the same time. Asking for directions – bathroom, bus stop, taxi stand, shopping area, restaurant, etc. is common. Sometimes the universal pictograms help but if you are looking for something specific, it is important to ask a local for direction. A map would be useful so they can point out where you are supposed to go, while paper and pen would be indispensable when you need to write down names, addresses or phone numbers. One thing you should learn to ask in the local language is, “Do you speak English?”
10. Learn the culture
Even if you find it difficult to learn the language, it is important to know something about your destination’s culture. Each country has its own set of customs and traditions that locals expect foreigners to understand and respect. You are not likely to make a serious cultural mistake if you know them, such as dining times, touching locals, patting their heads, proper attire, protocol and addressing people. In many Asian countries, different levels of honorifics are used. In Japan, there are several styles of bowing for example.
11. Speak clearly and slowly
If you find a person who speaks English, ensure that you speak clearly and slowly, using the simplest words in your vocabulary. Do not expect the person to understand you if you talk in your regular speaking speed.
Enjoy your tour of a foreign country because you deserve a vacation and use the tips we have here to hurdle the language barriers. But for more serious and professional translation work, call us at Day Translations, Inc. anytime. We are open 24/7, all throughout the year. Our human translators are located worldwide. We only work with native speakers so you are assured that you would be getting the most accurate translation in the fastest time possible, anywhere you are in the world. Send us an email at Contact us or give us a call at 1-800-969-6853 at your convenience.