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10 Best Tips For Overcoming Language Barriers When Traveling

Traveling is one of the most rewarding and fulfilling experiences you can ever have. Visiting another country gives you the space to explore and broaden your horizons. You get to learn about the culture, history, customs, food, music, and all the other things unique to the country you’re visiting. However, language barriers can sometimes be an obstacle.

When you’re traveling to a foreign country, not everyone speaks English. There are those countries whose people speak English poorly, or not at all. In those cases, you need to walk the extra mile to overcome those barriers. Luckily, we’ve put together a list of 10 best tips for overcoming language barriers while traveling.

Let’s take a closer look.

1.     Do Some Research

Before your next trip begins, you should do some research on the country you’re about to fly to. It’s important that you learn the basics to be able to overcome language barriers.

Make sure that you know:

  • what’s the official language
  • are there any other languages spoken besides the official
  • what are the cultural differences

For example, Luxembourg is a country with three official languages. They speak French, German and Luxembourgish.

Make sure that you know what language is spoken in the part of Luxemburg you’re visiting and learn a thing or two about the people who live there.

This way, you’ll be able to prepare better for what’s waiting for you.

2.     Use Language Apps

Technology is there to help us overcome language barriers easier than ever before. Thanks to different types of language apps, we can get around a foreign country much easier.

There are two types of language apps you could use:

  • language learning app
    If you’re willing to invest some serious effort into overcoming the language barrier when traveling, you can start the preparation a couple of weeks before the trip.

You can use a free language learning app such as DuoLingo, a try to learn the basics of the language. You’ll find it easier to communicate and maybe even like the language so much you’ll continue learning after your trip.

  • translation app
    If you don’t have the time to learn the language, you can use some of the best translations apps that are a lifesaver for language barriers.

There are apps that allow voice translation. All you have to do is chose the target language, say something in English, and have the app translate it and pronounce it in the target language.

It’s like you have a translator with you at all times.

Language apps are a huge help when traveling abroad, so make sure you find the ones you like and install them before your next journey.

3.     Carry a Dictionary

You may feel like dictionaries are old school, and you’re right. But, they’re sometimes the best choice for overcoming language barriers.

The thing is, technology can fail:

  • you could lose your smartphone
  • you don’t always have access to Wi-Fi
  • your battery can run out
  • your smartphone could die

In these cases, you’ll be left with nothing.

But, a pocket dictionary could save you and help you communicate what has happened to you.

Buy a small pocket dictionary and try using it as much as you can, to establish proper communication and practice your language skills.

4.     Learn Phrases

When you’re in a foreign country, it’s nice to show respect for the locals and people who’ve welcomed you to their country.

The best way to pay respect to your hosts and everyone you run into during your trip is to learn some basic phrases by heart.

Memorize phrases such as:

  • Thank you!
  • How much is this?
  • Where can I find…?

It’s not that hard to learn these simple sentences and use them with the local people later on.

This will make your trip much more enjoyable and people will like the fact that you made an effort.

5.     Rely on Body Language

When everything else fails, you’ve still got body language and mime on your side.

Using your body to explain something will, in most cases, turn out to be a success.

Just make sure that you’re:

  • talking in English slowly
  • using your hands and facial expressions to convey a message
  • pointing at things you’re talking about
  • being patient

Also, make sure you thank the person who had the patience to listen to you and try and figure out what you wanted to say.

Body language and mime are universal and can get you out of some tricky situations, so don’t be hesitant to use it.

6.     Download Offline Maps

A map is something you need to have by your side at all times.

If you don’t want to bring a printed map with you, like an old school tourist, you can download an offline map to your phone.

This will make sure you always have a map by your side, regardless of finding a Wi-Fi connection.

An offline map will help you:

  • get around easier
  • ask for directions by pointing to a location on the map
  • not get lost
  • find everything you planned on visiting

Even if you aren’t able to read the foreign language, you’ll be able to compare the sign from the map to the ones you see on the street.

7.     Pen & Paper

Another great way to use non-verbal communication to get around in a foreign country is to use pen and paper.

When things go wrong, and you simply can’t establish the communication with a local person, take out a piece of paper and draw what you’re trying to say.

Let’s say you’re looking for the market:

  • draw a fruit stand
  • draw a question mark
  • add a bit of body language and charades
  • hand the pen and paper to the other person
  • allow them to draw the directions to the market

This type of communication might just work out in some situations, so be prepared to use it as well.

Remember, there’s nothing wrong with asking for this type of help, as long as you’re polite and nice to the people helping you.

8.     Do Mutual Teaching

Sometimes, when we travel abroad, we meet great local people who become our friends.

Whether it’s the girl working in the local bakery, or a tour guide we met at an excursion, we can make great friends while we travel.

If you’re lucky enough to find a friend on your next trip, you can do some mutual teaching:

  • teach them English
  • have them teach you their language

If you go to places together, try speaking to each other on both languages to have equal practice out of it. This could be a beneficial and rewarding experience since you’ll have a language teacher with you at all times.

9.     Know The Cultural Differences

Another super-important thing that you have to keep in mind when traveling is the cultural difference.

Non-verbal communication can differ across countries so it’s important that you know some basic rules:

  • How close can you get to a person?
  • Does this nation approve of physical contact during communication?
  • Can you interrupt them while talking?
  • Are you allowed to speak to women directly?

Find answers to these and many other similar questions, to ensure you’re communicating with them properly.

10.     Relax & Do Your Best

Finally, there’s one last piece of advice you should remember.

Wherever you go, and however poorly you speak the local language, don’t forget to relax.

The best way to communicate a message to a person who speaks a different language than you is to:

  • stay relaxed
  • do your best
  • have fun
  • not be ashamed
  • not be under too much pressure

Just go ahead and enjoy your time traveling, not putting too much pressure on yourself to speak a foreign language.

Languages are hard, and it’s perfectly understandable if you’re unable to speak a language other than English.

But, a smile and some positive energy can go a long way, so use them to turn your trip into another pleasant and adventurous episode.

Final Thoughts

Language barriers exist, but it doesn’t mean you have to be multilingual to travel. It’s a great idea to do some preparation and learn some phrases before you head out. Also, arm yourself with technology and old school language aids to make sure you’ve got it all covered.

Use the tips above to overcome the language barriers wherever you go. Communicate with an open heart and mind and enjoy all your future travel adventures.

Nicole Garrison is a self-driven specialist who is currently working as a freelance writer at Studicus and BestEssayEducation is trying to improve herself and her blogging career. She is always seeking to discover new ways for personal and professional growth. That’s why Nicole develops and improves her skills throughout the writing process to help to inspire people. Also, she writes for GrabMyEssay, rounding out her professional writing career.

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Karen LeBlanc

Karen LeBlanc is a travel host and writer with a popular travel show, The Design Tourist, and a companion lifestyle blog. As a widely published travel journalist and content creator, Karen is a member of the North American Travel Journalists Association. She also serves as the Design and Travel editor of the national lifestyle magazine, LaPalme. Karen believes that every destination has a story to tell through its local art, architecture, culture, and craft. This immersive creative exploration begins with authentic accommodations where the narrative of place unfolds through art, accessories, accouterments, furnishings, fixtures, and food. 

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