There are at least 6,500 spoken languages in the world. Luckily for most of us in the USA, English is the language with the most speakers and we often take that for granted.
My non-traveling friends always seem to ask me the same question, how do I get by in a foreign country without speaking the language? It's a problem that keeps many people from taking the leap and traveling to a non-English speaking country. Understanding every word someone says isn't necessary, getting your basic point across is. Communicating is surprisingly easy, and it has gotten easier.
Here’s one thing that doesn’t work… speaking English louder will not suddenly make a non-English speaker understand what you’re saying. It happens all the time and it’s annoying and makes people look silly. Don’t do it.
Also, if you want to know if someone speaks English, ask them if they speak English (preferably in their language) before just assuming they speak English and just starting to talk. It’s disrespectful.
Even if someone speaks English, chances are they don’t speak as quickly as you do, and their vocabulary isn’t too advanced. When communicating with a non-native English speaker, slow down your speech, avoid slang, and choose your words carefully. Simple words can make a difference between someone understanding you or not.
Ok, rant over. Now for the suggestions.
You’d be amazed at how much you can communicate with hand signals and pointing. It’s easy to show someone you’re hungry, thirsty, need to find a toilet, or are lost. I was even able to communicate what I needed in a pharmacy in French Polynesia by pointing at a body part and saying “ouch.” Getting creative works.
Learn a few words before you go. Knowing how to say hello, please, and thank you can go a long way. Once, I taught myself how to say, “I would like two tickets please,” in French, but wasn’t ready for the French response. The man politely repeated himself slowly, and I said my phase again. Then, appreciating my effort but knowing I had no idea what he was saying, he giggled and said, “Where are you going?” in English. I laughed, answered, and was on my way. At least I tried.
Phone apps like Google Translate have made things super easy. You can type in text and it will translate it for you. You can even use the camera to take a photo of a sign or hand write something. It will also translate speech. Before you leave, don’t forget to download the language of the country you’re visiting so you don’t need to always use data or wi-fi.
Don’t freak out if you can’t communicate easily. There are many ways to get your point across. We’re talking about basic needs here, you don’t need to be able to have a deep philosophical discussion. Point, signal, use short phrases, whatever works. Most of all, enjoy the experience.
What are your communication tips?