World Travel 101: Part 3 – Foreign Languages

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One of the more difficult challenges you can face when traveling abroad, is being in a strange place and not knowing the language.

World Travel 101: Part 3 Foreign Languages

How Can You Break Through the Language Barrier When Traveling?

There are many countries where you’re likely to find folks who speak English.  And for the rest, I’ll share tips on how to make it through!

World Travel 101 – Index

Places Where Many People Speak English

Luckily, English is the is 1 of the most widely spoken languages in the world.  So in many cases you won’t have trouble communicating.

World Travel 101: Part 3 Foreign Languages

English Is a Popular Language. So In Many Places, Finding Someone Who Speaks a Bit of English May Not Be Too Challenging.

You’re likely to find folks who speak English in Western European countries, such as Denmark, Germany, and the Netherlands.

A few places you might not expect, where English is spoken:

  • Belize – Once a British territory, the official language is still English
  • India – Once a British colony and English is still widely spoken
  • Kenya – English and Swahili are the official languages
  • Philippines – Once a US territory, English is still 1 of the country’s official languages
  • Singapore – English is 1 of 4 major spoken languages
  • Hong Kong – Once a British colony and English is still widely spoken

However, in places like China and Japan the language barrier is more pronounced, because many Asian countries don’t share our alphabet.  So signs and menus can be unrecognizable.

This can get especially challenging when you have a food allergy like Emily!

But if you stay in larger cities, like most tourists, then there will be minimal issues.  Many big cities (and even some smaller towns) cater to tourists and have English language translations everywhere.

How to Survive the Language Barrier

When you travel to rural areas or outside of major tourist destinations, you’re less likely to find people who speak English.  In these situations, a little bit of preparation can go long way.

Getting to know the locals makes a much more memorable traveling experience.  In Portugal, Emily and I met a couple at a busy restaurant because they wanted to share our table.

Unfortunately, we didn’t speak much Portuguese, and missed an opportunity to get to know this couple.

World Travel 101: Part 3 Foreign Languages

Don’t Miss an Opportunity to Meet the Locals!

However, Emily visited Spain, and spoke some Spanish.  Locals invited her over for a homemade dinner of paella, sangria, and lots of other delicious local dishes.  She’ll always treasure that experience getting to know locals over a traditional dinner.

World Travel 101: Part 3 Foreign Languages

Emily Will Always Remember This Dinner!

1.  Learn 3 Key Words

Don’t assume that everyone will – or wants to – speak English!

Taking the time to learn these 3 important words can take you a long way when you’re in a new land:

  • Hello
  • Please
  •  and Thank You!
World Travel 101: Part 3 Foreign Languages

Learning Local Greetings and Niceties Can Make It Easier to Find Someone Willing to Help

Even if you don’t get the pronunciation right, people will appreciate the effort.  At the very least you may get a smile and a few laughs. 😀

And the more you know, the richer travel experience you may have.

2.   Tools to Help You

There are many amazing places to visit in this world and with them come thousands of different languages.  There’s no way to learn them all!

Luckily, there are tools to help.

World Travel 101: Part 3 Foreign Languages

Tools to Assist Your Communication

  • Picture Dictionary – Books like Point It  give you an index of pictures you can point to if you’re in a pinch.

Note:   You could save some money by doing an image search on your phone.  You can also use a map on your phone to show or tell taxi drivers the names of the street if your phone app is giving you turn-by-turn directions.

Mobile Apps
  • Google Translate – Speak or type what you would like to say and this FREE app will give you the translation.  Or use the camera on your phone to translate text on signs and menus almost instantly!  This amazing tool can help Emily avoid ordering anything with fish!
  • Tap & Say – Tap key phrases even when you’re offline.  Then this FREE app will do the talking for you!

Bottom Line

Making your way around a foreign country can get interesting when you don’t speak the language.  But learning 3 key words and using tools to help you translate can take the stress out of any communication barriers you may face.

Also, being friendly, polite, patient, and having a sense of humor will make it easy to find folks who are more than willing to help!

And remember, being exposed to new languages is part of the fun and learning experience of traveling, so enjoy the ride!

If you’re an experienced international traveler, how do you break through the communication barrier?

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One response to “World Travel 101: Part 3 – Foreign Languages

  1. My wife and I took French in high school, retain little of it, and find it easy to travel in countries that speak Spanish or German. The similarities are there, so signs are easy to decode. My problem is that, in Austria and Switzerland, after learning a few words in German and being overconfident, I would start by interacting with people in German, they would assume I spoke it, and come back at me with a bunch indecipherable words! So by my second sentence, I’m already apologizing and saying “Um, English, bitte?”

    We travel to Japan later this year. Should be interesting.