Travelling in a new country where you don’t speak the language can be fun, but it can also be stressful as hell, especially at times when you really need a toilet! Yes, language barriers can be daunting, but sometimes it’s better to be lost in translation, rather than sitting at home admiring your friend’s travel photos on Facebook.
With these seven tips, tricks, and handy apps, language barriers shouldn’t be something to worry about. These could help lower your blood pressure when you’re in a foreign country dealing with a language you don’t understand:
1. Learn six simple words
No matter which country you are in, learn how to say these words in the local tongue: Hello, Thank you, How Much, Yes, No, Toilet. You’d be surprise at how far six small words can take you. Locals will often break into a smile when they see a foreigner attempting to speak in their tongue. It always makes for a good icebreaker, especially with the souvenir lady you want a discount from. They will appreciate that you took the extra effort to learn their language, and will reciprocate with warmth, kindness, and perhaps even their own attempt at English.
2. Download the Google Translate app
Trust us when we say that the Google Translate app is a god sent. This little mobile app literally translates alien scribble into English, or any other language of your choice, in real time. All you have to do is point your smartphone’s camera at the foreign word, and Google will automatically detect and translate it to English for you. You can also type in words to be translated, or simply speak into the microphone. Google Translate now supports up to 90 languages. It’s like having a little personal translator in your pocket. Google says with this app, you will never get lost again. We say with this app, you will never not know what you are ordering from the menu full of gibberish again.
Download the Google Translate app: Android, iPhone
3. Be shameless
Feeling self-conscious will only make things even more difficult. When you are learning to pronounce the local accent, don’t be afraid at the locals chuckling when you get it wrong. You will get it wrong, and they will laugh at you, but only because it makes you endearing. There is nothing to feel shy or ashamed about when you are learning something new. If you are afraid of looking stupid, how are you going to gesticulate to the waiter than you want chicken and not pork? It’s not about being brave; it’s about having the right mindset. Be open to learning and being laughed at as it is all part of the fun.
4. Show respect for the local language
Don’t be that tourist who expects anyone and everyone to understand you, just because you speak English. In countries like Japan, English is so intimidating that the sound of it will scare people away. Remember tip #1? The best way is to approach a local and say “hi” in their language before jumping into a string of English.
5. Learn the local body language
When words fail, naturally the next thing to do is to act out what you are trying to convey. However, you don’t want your innocent hand gestures to accidentally offend someone. If you think thumbs-up is the universal language for “good job”, you are very wrong. Give your chef in Iran a joyful thumbs-up for the yummy dish and he might just spit in your food. In Afghanistan, Iran, Greece, even and parts of Italy, the thumbs-up hand signal actually means “up yours”.
6. Carry a pen and notebook with you
When playing charades fails you, use the universal language of pictures. Carry a notebook and a pen, and draw what you need. It’s that simple. Let’s just hope that your drawing is better than your hand gestures.
7. Zafigo travel cards
If you have no confidence in your drawing (how do I even start to draw wifi password?!), use the Zafigo Travel Cards. These handy cards illustrate the necessities we might need to make communication easier without words. There’s everything from “sanitary pad” to “no eggs” available. You can easily save these images in a photo album in your smartphone and whip them out whenever you need them. No phone data needed. If you are the type who doesn’t believe in travelling with technology, simply print them out and carry them in your bag.
Get the Zafigo Travel Cards here.
Remember these seven tips the next time you are in a land where you don’t speak the local language. You never know when it could save you from an embarrassing “accident”, especially at times when toilets are very much needed.
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