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How to Manage a Language Barrier

01.20.2015
Topic News Articles

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Heading out into a new destination provides globetrotters with the chance to experience a culture for the first time. While this will often entail trying new foods, seeing iconic landmarks and meeting foreigners, it also means people have to speak a new language as they navigate.

Although a few languages, such as English, are widely spoken throughout Europe and other tourist hot spots, in some locations globetrotters will have to speak the native tongue to get by. Travelers exploring an unknown country with an unfamiliar language should consider a few tips as they try to communicate with locals.

Learn the basics

First thing's first: Everyone should know key words and phrases in mind as they enter a foreign land. It won't take much to learn how to say the basics: hello, goodbye, please, thank you and excuse me, to name a few. It also helps to be able to ask if a person speaks English, or any other language. Even if travelers only begin a request with "Please" or "Hello" in a given tongue, it could be enough to appeal to locals and get them to listen to a question.

Speak slowly, not loudly

For many, the solution to being heard by others is to increase the volume, but when speaking a different language, all travelers are doing is making themselves look foolish. Instead of speaking loudly, slow down the speech and enunciate the words. Rick Steves noted that most people who speak even a little bit of English will likely have learned it from a book, so it's important to avoid contractions, pronounce individuals syllables and stick with simple words.

Stay away from strange phrases

There are a number of idioms that simply don't translate well into different languages. When trying to communicate with foreigners, cut out the slang in favor of more direct words. Rather than rush through conversations and confuse others, think ahead about what needs to be said and consider how the words could potentially be misconstrued.

Keep everything simple

While travelers are getting rid of odd phrases, they may also want to cut down on the sheer number of words they're saying. For instance, if travelers are trying to ask where to find a restroom, they may be better served by inquiring to the location of the toilet, as that is the term used in most parts of the world. In fact, travelers can often keep things short by simply asking, "Toilet?" and using the proper voice inflection, which will likely get the point across.

Don't go crazy with gestures

Hand gestures can be tremendously helpful for anyone trying to navigate language barriers. However, if travelers are relying on them too much, they may find the movements are hurting more than helping. Use gestures if necessary, but don't distract the other person by waving arms around wildly. Pointing to certain objects or to places on maps may be useful.

Let technology help

In today's world, there are several apps and electronics that can help travelers figure out any language. For example, Google Translate and similar programs are available to translate words in a flash, while programs provide downloadable dictionaries and language practice tools. In addition to these options, there are also services in a given country that may be able to help in the event of an emergency. By taking advantage of assistance services, travelers can be sure they are protected and supported should something go awry.

The information contained here is provided by Brafton. AIG Travel assumes no responsibility for the use, accuracy, or interpretation of the information contained herein.