I know many people think about potential language barriers when traveling. Sure, it can be nerve-wracking but don’t let fear of not being understood stop you from engaging with the locals! Over the years I’ve tested so many different ways to communicate when solo traveling or backpacking so I wanted to mention some of my favourites.
Before I start, I just want to highlight the opportunities that come from an initial nerve when dealing with language barriers. Not only will you pick up potential new friendships, you’ll find yourself realising just how many ways there are to communicate. Some of my current best friends were once pen-pals from all over the world. Embracing differences can lead to such pleasant surprises. However, I get it’s easier said than done so as promised, here are my best pieces of advice when you find yourself in an unfamiliar situation travelling.
-Use emojis in real life. Yup, hear me out. A lot of expressions, emoticons or emojis are universally understood. This means showing an emoji of a ‘pharmacy’ or a ‘bathroom’ will most likely get your message understood loud and clear. I found this tip to be seriously time-saving as I didn’t have to wait for translation apps to load.
-Freaking out about ordering food abroad because you have a gluten allergy? Try translated allergy cards from https://www.celiactravel.com/cards/. These printable cards are available in over 60 languages. If you know anyone with an allergy, these could be pretty life-saving! All you need to do is show them to restaurant staff when ordering food.
-Ask people around you! A quick ‘Does anyone speak X’ announcement could bring comforting results. People are almost always willing enough to help out!
-If you really can’t part with translating apps, try saving Google Translate in offline mode. You’ll have access to the app without the need to switch on mobile data. I really wish I knew about this when I backpacked to Italy as I found myself without mobile data by day 2 of my trip, oops.
-As humans, we tend to forget communication isn’t only oral so think about movement. If you are struggling to communicate, combine your words with relevant body language and hand gestures. Speaking of movement, I really think every school should give the option to learn sign-language but that’s a topic for another day!
-Take a few minutes to save useful phrases into your phone. I’m talking about the most basic of basics! I found this little tip to be so useful when I travelled more rural locations. Sure, my pronunciation was off but I was able to purchase what I needed and became motivated to remember these phrases for future use.
-Finally, whenever you need a confidence boost, think about this quote – “Do you know what a foreign accent is? It’s a sign of bravery” – Amy Chua
If you have any language barrier stories or tips let me know! I’d love to hear them. Until then, see you in the next post!