This travel post is not about a fancy hotel or a glamorous restaurant like usual. This time I was challenged to write about language barriers during my trips, because travelling isn’t only about welcome drinks, relaxing spas and selfies with wild animals. You also get lost in the desert, get your luggage stolen and have to eat weird “stuff”, yes, let’s call it stuff. When you can’t communicate in a certain language, it all becomes a huge struggle!
Sometimes English won’t get you very far
Something that you should keep in mind, while you’re travelling is that, not everyone in every country is supposed or is willing to speak English with you. Of course it’s the universal language and it’s the best way to communicate in a foreign country, but try to order a meal in a small village restaurant in Spain or even France and be ready to be sent to hell! My advice is that you learn a few words in their language to harmonize the first contact and then just let Siri speak for you! Just kidding! But you really need to show that you’re willing to understand their culture and that means also their language.
I don’t understand, show me your lips
On my first internship in a magazine in South Africa, I had to make calls, you know, interns always have to do the most boring part of the job! English is not my first language and even though I’m very comfortable speaking it, looking at people’s lips while they speak is quite helpful. Clearly, on the phone you can’t do that so it’s already a challenge, and to make it more of a struggle I had to phone international restaurants’ owners (Moldavian, Greek, Italians, etc). The result is pretty much half an hour of “What? I don’t understand! Is that even English?”. And at the end you get all the wrong information. Advice, avoid the phone if you can, e-mails exist for a reason and will make it easier for both sides!
Strategies for overcoming language barriers
- Speak slowly and clearly.
- Ask for clarification. If you’re not sure you have understood ask again.
- Be specific and objective.
- Use gestures.
- Read about the country’s culture before visiting that country so your words and gestures are not misunderstood.
- Be very patient!
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