Breaking the Language Barrier during Travels

Master the art of communication

We Filipinos are very fortunate to know how to speak English. It is the most widely used language, and so we find it easy to converse with any other citizen of the world who knows how to speak it. For instance, if you book a cheap flight to Singapore, you don’t have to worry about being lost in translation, for everybody knows a word or two, or at least the most important ones.

However, there are countries where English isn’t spoken. Unless you don’t communicate with locals during your travels, and this is impossibility, you need to learn how to converse with somebody who doesn’t speak your language. Impossible? Impossible is nothing. Here are some things you can do.

  • Speak in English. It is likely that the local you’re talking to knows one or two English words. Try this first and if it doesn’t work, try the next tip.
  • Use signs and gestures. Time to unleash the theatre actor in you. Use hand gestures to make your message clearer.
  • Bring pictures of the places you want to go to. Simply pointing to the picture will immediately send the message that you want to know how to get there.
  • Ready a pen and paper (or an iPad app that lets you jot down notes). This is so that you can easily write the name of the place you want to get to. You can also have the local sketch the directions for you!
  • No need to speak louder. This is a very common (and funny) mistake! The person you’re talking to simply does not know your language, he’s not deaf. The best you can do is to speak slowly, but not louder.
  • Don’t be shy. You won’t get anywhere if you just clam up and try to figure out everything by yourself. Locals are more than willing to help out.
  • But be humble. Don’t act like the people where you are owe you something. Realize your position in the country you’re visiting, and don’t act entitled. You might end up in a remote island that is nowhere near beautiful.
  • Prepare for your travel. If you know that you’re visiting a non English-speaking, then get directions to all the places you’ll go to before your plane takes off. That’ll save you (and the local that you didn’t bug) time.
  • Learn a bit of the language. Important phrases like “Toire wa dokoda” for “Where is the bathroom?” if you are in Japan, and “combien est se” for “How much is this?” in French.
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