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
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.
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.
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.
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.