Nov 30, 2017
Posted by: Daniel Walker

Tips for travelling in countries where you don’t speak the language

There will come a point when you start to travel to new places, cities and countries that speak an entirely different language. You may be lucky and be able to communicate with most people in English, but a lot of the time this is not possible. While English is often seen as the international language, it is not spoken by everyone and everywhere, which is a good thing. In this post, I wanted to provide some tips for travelling in countries where you don’t speak the language. It can be very difficult to communicate, it can be quite the challenge, but it is all part of the fun and experience of that place.

Travelling in countries where you don’t speak the language

Learn the basics of the local language

This is easier said than done, but learning the bare minimum can be extremely beneficial and make your overseas holiday less stressful, and rewarding. There is nothing worse than hearing those annoying tourists communicating to locals in English and getting angry because they don’t understand. Don’t be that person, remember you are the visitor, respect their culture and language.

Learning how to say hello, goodbye, thank you, excuse me and sorry will go a long way. It also shows locals you care enough to make the effort to try and learn the basics of their language. This is seen as very respectful.

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Smile

A smile will go a long way in most places in the world. There are, of course, some exceptions to this, but for the most part, a smile is widely accepted as a friendly gesture and sign of acknowledgement.

Google Translate app

The Google Translate App works wonders when travelling in foreign countries. The app’s best feature is the camera translator, just take a photo of a sign or a menu and it will translate it there and then in front of you. Note, the translation may not always make perfect sense, but you can usually work it out pretty easily. You can also speak directly into the microphone of your phone and translate it into the language you need and play it to someone who can’t understand your language.

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Ask hotel staff

From personal experience, I have found that the most helpful people to ask for directions and for things to do are hotel staff. Hotel staff, in particular, a concierge team will have physical maps in multiple languages and in some cases may even speak the basics of your native language. When asking for help from hotel staff, get them to circle and underline places on maps, write the names and address out in the local language and teach you the correct pronunciations. This will help you to tell a taxi driver where you want to go or when asking someone for directions. Grabbing a business card for the hotel you are staying in is also a really good idea.



Hand gestures and miming

Using hand gestures, pointing, miming and playing charades can really get a point across to someone you don’t understand. This can actually be really fun and even get a laugh out of the person you are trying to communicate to.

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Carry a pen and paper

If playing charades doesn’t work, there is always Pictionary. Carrying a pen and some paper can be very handy. Drawing out a rough sketch of the thing you want to do or say may help you and the person you are trying to communicate to. If you want to visit a famous bridge, landmark, museum or tourist attraction, sketching it will make it much easier for someone to understand what exactly you need.

Use photos

If the above two methods don’t work then there is always your smartphone. With a smartphone, you can do almost anything including finding some images to show someone. Just pull up some images from a quick Google search or from Instagram, Pinterest or an online magazine and show it to someone. A local may not understand you, but showing them a picture will help them.

Thanks for reading these tips for travelling in countries where you don’t speak the language. We hope these were helpful for you, let us know if you think I have missed any other tups.



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Daniel Walker - Author

Daniel Walker is an Australian landscape photographer, blogger, outdoor enthusiast and travel addict originally from western Sydney, now residing in Melbourne, Victoria.

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