The world has at least 6,000 different languages spoken across its many countries. Europe boasts about 230 languages spoken across the continent, while Asia’s diverse population speaks a whopping variety of 2,197 languages. When it comes to traveling abroad, you are likely to encounter some degree of language differentiation from what you’re used to, even if you’re a native English speaker, Australia, Canada and the UK speak English, but with their own flavor.
With the globalization that our world has been experiencing the past few years, languages have been mingling and transcending borders. These days you will find signs in many countries written in two languages, typically the local language and English, and sometimes even more depending on how tourist centric the area is. This principle is also applicable when communicating with the locals, as areas that are used to hosting a variety of nationalities will have mastered at least a few basic essential words to successfully carry out basic transactions with visitors.
If you are travelling with friends that speak the language, you can utilize their skills to get around and engage with locals, but you may still find yourself feeling left out, confused and disoriented from your lack of understanding of what everyone is talking about. The isolation you may experience can really put a damper on your trip and take your focus away from the amazing experience in front of you while you are so hung up on not being able to communicate.
However, such feelings of isolation have remedies that can prevent and assist you when it comes to facing foreign tongues!
Learn the Basics
Thanks to the linguistic experts of the world, there are hundreds of books, online programs and readily available courses that can help you learn even just the basics before you get on the plane (where the flight crew are likely to be speaking the foreign language).
Before you head out, try your hand with a free online program such as Duolingo, which offer courses to learn several different languages. This program features a system that utilizes reading, writing, speaking and listening skills that help you garner an understanding of basic words and the structure of the language. There are other programs available, some of which can help you learn a language fully, such as Rosetta Stone, but if you are just going for a short trip, preparing with the basics is a good place to start.
Pocket-sized books that fit easily into your carry on and daypack feature common greetings, as well as situational words such as accommodations, health emergencies, and ordering food. They usually also include a shortened dictionary in the back of the book. Compared to the apps that are available on our smart phones, an old fashioned book will be at your service any time compared to an app which you might only be able to use when you have access to the internet. Just be ready for the fact that even though you may successfully ask or start a conversation in the local language, you may not receive the typical answer that is provided by your book, leaving you with a very confused look on your face.
Other Ways to Communicate
Despite your preparation, you still may find yourself in a position where you are unable to communicate. With the appropriate words One strategy you can use to surpass this setback is to speak slowly, not loudly, while enunciating each word very carefully, and making sure to use the most basic words. Sometimes it even helps to isolate each word and try and garner an understanding of each word before moving on to the next because just that one word may be able to help you achieve what you were trying to convey.
Another method is to make the most of what you have, by using body language! Using your hands to mime what you are trying to talk about can help monumentally in any country in the world. Whether you’re trying to order fish, looking for the bus or even trying to find a place to buy sunscreen, your hands are your next best tools. Many gestures are universal such as thumbs up for good, or motioning your hand to your mouth for eating and food, but watch out for gestures that do not translate borders. For instance, in most countries nodding the head means yes, while shaking it means no, but in Bulgaria it actually means the opposite!
Bringing along a notepad and pen are also a handy visual approach when your words fail you. Even if your drawing skills are not up to Da Vinci calibre, sketching out a landmark or generic symbol can help you navigate your way through foreign languages. You can also draw images that relate to the word you are trying to communicate and that can help provide an idea of what your meaning is to the other person. Just as well, a note pad can be given to the other party and they can draw their intended meanings, sort of like a real world game of Pictionary!
Do Your Research
Although it may be your premiere tour abroad, you are most likely not the first person on Earth to head to this destination. This is a huge advantage for you because not only does it mean that the local people abroad have at least some experience with foreigners, but at least one of the adventurers before you has jotted down their experience on a blog somewhere on the Internet. Do your homework and see if you can find chronicles about how easy or difficult it is to get around for people who speak your native tongue. You might also find recommendations on what programs, books and tools to use to help you prepare for your trip when learning the language, or materials that you should bring with you that can assist you with communications.
As intimidating and isolating as it may be to find yourself in a country where you don’t understand what anyone is saying, it is very important to remind yourself why you travelled there in the first place. Do not let yourself be scared and simply retreat into yourself and hide from what you don’t know, instead use this as an opportunity to explore and experience a new culture and all that comes with it! Immersion is one of the ultimate ways to learn a new language, as you are forced to constantly push yourself to speak, listen, write and read in a foreign language. This is an opportunity to explore the tongues of the world, to challenge your own survival and adaptability skills and to meet and connect with others around the world that you normally never would have if you had stayed back home and reserved yourself to only speaking your original language.