Stephanie Yoder a RoamRight Blog Author

How to Travel When You Don't Speak the Language


Traveling to place that uses a language you don't know can be intimidating, particularly if you've never done it before. In this foreign atmosphere everything from ordering a meal to buying a train ticket is an adventure in troubleshooting.

People shouldn't be held back though by language barriers. There are many easy ways to get around linguistic differences and create a meaningful connection. Here are some tips:

Choose Your Level of Difficulty

Some countries have higher language barriers than others. In fact, not speaking the language is only an issue in some parts of the world, whereas if you're traveling in Western or Northern Europe, Korea, Mexico or Thailand, there is a good chance that most people you encounter in the tourism industry will speak at least a serviceable amount of English. Additionally all major international tourist hubs will have loads of English speakers.

Other countries speak less English but their language is still accessible. Places like Southern Europe and Central and South America all speak romance languages, which have many words in common with English. Even if you've never spoken Spanish in your life it is easy to pick out and recognize certain words.

Other countries can be much harder, particularly those that use an entirely different alphabet or grammatical structure, which can make even sounding words out quite difficult. This includes places like China, the Middle East, Russia and India. While it's still perfectly possible to travel through these countries the language differences do present more challenges.

Start Before You Leave

No matter where you are headed it's always a good idea to learn a few words in the local language before your arrive. “Yes,” “no,” “thank you,” “excuse me,” and “bathroom,” are all important and useful words that should guide you through a number of situations. You may want to take a crack at learning the numbers as well.

Remember that making any effort to speak the language will be seen favorably in most places.

Take Your Best Guess

Often you can use context clues to decipher an unrecognizable situation. Look at word placement and make connections back to your life at home: for example a word placed above a figure of a man or woman might tell you where the bathroom is. You would be surprised how many things you can figure out just by making an educated guess.

Don't Be Afraid to Look Stupid

When context clues alone won't cut it, it's time to resort to tricks like pointing or miming what you need. People want to help you, particularly if you are spending money in their establishment and will make every effort to meet you half-way. Use all methods of communication available to you to get your point across.

Above all, don't be intimidated by your lack of language skills and remember there's always more than one-way to communicate.

Note: Available plans and coverages may have changed since this blog was published.


About the Author

Stephanie Yoder

Stephanie Yoder, a RoamRight Blog Author

Stephanie Yoder is a girl who can't sit still! Since graduating college in 2007 she has either been traveling or planning to travel. She's lived on four continents and visited everywhere from the Great Wall of China to the Great Barrier Reef. She now writes and travels full time, blogging about her adventures on Why Wait To See The World? (formerly Twenty-Something Travel). Follow Stephanie on Twitter or visit her on Facebook.

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