It’s not easy to communicate while traveling abroad where nobody speaks your language. Especially if you don’t know what to do when you get lost or need help in an unknown place. Here are a few rules that will help you survive. But you don’t have to give up on going to a country where almost nobody seems to understand you. Just learn a few tricks that will help you understand and be understood.
DO LEARN A FEW MOST COMMON WORDS AND EXPRESSIONS BEFORE THE TRIP
This way even if you meet someone, who doesn’t speak any language but their own, you will be able to ask for directions or get help. There usually is a small dictionary in each guidebook, no matter the country or the publisher – use it. You don’t have to take a 6 month language course before every single trip abroad. Try to learn the most important words and phrases from the dictionary and highlight the rest of those, that you think might be useful during your trip.
DON’T BE AFRAID TO MAKE MISTAKES WHEN YOU COMMUNICATE WHILE TRAVELING ABROAD
The natives get it – you do not speak their language. They might laugh at you a little, but usually they will be understanding. The smaller the range of a language, the bigger the appreciation for your efforts. So go ahead, try pronouncing those terrible Russian “pazhausta”-s (please), those impossible Wietnameese “tôi không hiểu”-s (I don’t understand), the raw German “entschuldigung”-s (I’m sorry), the mortifying Hungarian “köszönöms”-s (thank you). It will pay off.
DO HELP YOURSELF WITH GESTURES TO COMMUNICATE WHILE TRAVELING ABROAD
Even if it looks silly. Even if it takes a lot of energy. It really works! Psychologists and behaviorists state, that only about 7% of the whole of the information is transferred with words. The rest is the tone, mimics, gestures – the so called “body language”. So it doesn’t matter that you feel stupid waving your hands around, because if the person you talk to notices your effort (and if you gesticulate even half as intensively as I always do, it is impossible not to notice the effort), they will be more eager to understand you and help.
DON’T DISRESPECT ANY LANGUAGE OR DIALECT WHILE TRAVELING ABROAD
A language or a dialect is a source of pride for every nation or region. Do not laugh at it, even if the words you hear can easily be associated with some of the words from your own language and might sound inappropriate or unusually ridiculous it the context. For the natives they mean something completely different. If you laugh or make a comment (even a whisper to your fellow traveler) you might end up offending people and discredit not only yourself, but as a representative of your country, also your whole nation.
DO TRY TO UNDERSTAND THE LANGUAGE TO COMMUNICATE WHILE TRAVELING ABROAD
Especially, if you stay abroad for a little longer than the usual trip. Focus on the melody of the speech, try catching out where one word ends and the second starts. It is not as hard as you think if you have enough time and motivation. And imagine the surprise of your foreign companions, when you join the conversation they’re having in another language. Even if you reply in English (Spanish, French or any other language you usually communicate in), the surprised look on their face and congratulations you get will be worth the effort.
DON’T RISK BEING MISUNDERSTOOD WITH IMPORTANT THINGS
If you happen to need medical assistance it is generally better to find a clinic that has English speaking doctors (to all the doctors reading this – do you still learn Latin? Can someone come up to you and talk to you in this language?). If you can’t find any, ask someone local to translate for you. You do not want to risk being treated with antibiotics for bacterial infection when all you have is a sunburn! Explaining with gestures and drawings is the last option.
DO LEARN SWEARS TO COMMUNICATE WHILE TRAVELING ABROAD
This is no joke. You should be able to recognize when someone is offending you – pretty often they do this with a wide smile on their face, so don’t be deceived. The f*cks, the sh*ts, and the bitches sound differently in most languages and for some unexplained reason they are also one of the first words most people memorize and implement into their own language while on vacation (and some time after). And if you want to learn some right away make sure to check out our hilarious, yet a bit nasty post on cursing around the globe.
The simple phrases like “hello”, “thank you”, “yes”, “no”, “toilet”, “hospital”, “f*ck”, “how much”, “please leave me alone – I will not buy any souvenir from you for three times the regular price” etc. might prove useful in all sorts of situations. Memorising them and keeping in mind these few guidelines will help you communicate efficiently enough to have a pleasant, safe stay and make some really good friends to go back to for the next travel. You might also want to check out our post on apps that help you communicate while traveling abroad.