How to Travel to a Place When You Don’t Know the Language
I frequently travel for both business and for pleasure. Nothing excites me more than introducing my children to new cultures and watching as they learn to understand and appreciate the people and the customs of a foreign country. Though my family is multilingual, (my eldest speaks 6 languages and is learning two more) very often we find ourselves in countries where the local language is not one of the several languages that any of us speaks. If you’ve got foreign travel in your future, you might be wondering how you’re going to communicate with people who speak another language. Don’t fret. With just a little planning, it’s not as hard as it seems. And I’m not talking about learning a whole new language, either.
Learn the Basics
Sure, it’s great to have a second (or third) language at your fingertips. But from experience, I find you really only need to know a few basic words and phrases to get along in just about any situation. Start by learning greetings, like “hello,” “good-bye,” “good morning,” and “goodnight.” And you can’t go wrong with “please” and “thank you.” You’ll be surprised how appreciative the locals are that you made an effort. Once you’ve mastered those basic greetings, you might learn how to ask a person’s name or, even more importantly, where the bathroom is. Or maybe learn how to ask the price of something, especially if you plan on bringing home some souvenirs. You can use sites like YouTube or Duolingo to learn how to say foreign words and phrases. Hearing the words will also help you recognize and understand them when someone speaks them to you.
You know the saying, “Actions speak louder than words”? Well, it’s especially true when you don’t know a lot of words to begin with. Being polite and showing a friendly attitude can go a long way toward helping make sure you’re understood, and, I find, it also makes people more patient and helpful when I’m trying (maybe sometimes unsuccessfully) to get my point across. And remember this: A smile is understood no matter where you go. It’s a language unto itself.
Download an App
Not sure what to say? Do as I do and let your phone say it for you. There are plenty of apps that will translate what you want to say into foreign languages – and some apps will “listen” to what someone else is saying and translate it back into English.
Write Down Your Address
One phrase you want to be sure to get right is the address of the hotel where you’re staying. Not only is it essential for taxis and Ubers, but it’s also good to have in case you forget the way “home.” Additionally, I always have my address written down to avoid any confusion due to mispronunciation. That way, I can simply hand the piece of paper to my taxi drivers and let them read it for themselves.
One final thing to remember: English is widely spoken outside the U.S. -in fact, so many people throughout the world speak at least a little English, it’s often referred to as the world’s language. It’s also the most common foreign language taught in countries outside the U.S. That means even if your foreign language skills aren’t up to par by the time you leave for your trip, there’s a really good chance you’ll still be able to communicate just fine. So enjoy your trip and have fun learning about the culture around you.
Nabila Khashoggi travels extensively with her own children, believing it broadens their horizons, fosters tolerance and understanding, and ensures a global perspective of the planet.