Overcoming Language Barriers

9 Simple Tips to Overcoming Language Barriers while Traveling

Since time immemorial, communication has been of great importance, however, what happens when a party cannot understand the language of the other party? The essence of communication is defeated!


It may interest you to know that there are some places across the globe that don’t communicate in English as much as the language is spoken in most places.

As a tourist, you will be surprised to see places that don’t understand a thing in English. 

If you are faced with such a scenario, how can you overcome the language barrier while traveling?

In this article, I will discuss with you ways through which you can achieve this thereby giving you an edge while communicating with locals.

This article promises to be interesting as well as educating, stay with me.

Tips To Overcoming Language Barriers

1. Carry Out Proper Research

Once you are sure of travelling to a foreign country, the first thing you should do is to carry out adequate research on the important information about the place you intend to visit, and that includes their official language(s).

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It’s important that you know the official languages because that’s the only means of communicating with locals there, or don’t you intend to talk to anyone?

At some point, the need to ask questions or seek directions will arise, so,  do your research.

Also, if the country has more than one official language, look out for the prominent language spoken in the town or city you will stay. Please don’t play down doing proper research.

2. Have A Knowledge Of The Basics

It is ideal if you know how to speak and understand some basic phrases and words in the native language of your intended place of visit.

You may be wondering how to go about this. It’s simple, the internet has made everything easier, therefore, you can rely on the help of a few language practice apps (don’t fret, I will throw more light on this later in this article).  

Furthermore, if you have any family members, friends or anyone who has a knowledge of the language you want to learn, maybe because they reside there or they have been there in the past, you can as well ask them to teach you the basics.

The plane’s entertainment system is yet another reliable means of learning basic phrases, that is, if you are traveling by air.

Please, if you are traveling to a place where English is generally spoken and understood, it is still important that you go through this process as it will give you an edge when interacting with the natives.

At this point, you may be wondering what those basic words you need to learn are. 

Well, they include words such as “goodbye”, “hello”, “thank you”, as for the phrases, you could learn phrases such as “where is the toilet”,“do you speak English?”, “what’s your name” and so much more.

I encourage you to go the extra mile to think of other words and phrases that you think you may need to say quite often. 

By doing so, you will get familiar with these phrases and words in the native language of the foreign country you intend to visit.  

3. Pay attention and Learn

Another means to help yourself out is by paying rapt attention and listening because they indeed help one to understand and get familiar with a language.

Language just like culture can be learned by mere observation and paying close attention.

The truth remains that if you constantly listen to them, you will find out that with time, you will unconsciously begin to speak and understand the words and phrases of the foreign language.

In addition to this, if at any point, you don’t understand a word, feel free to ask questions, that way, you can develop your vocabulary while speaking the said language and before you know it, you will be able to communicate like a pro.

4. Make a sketch

If you get to a country where you are not so good with the official language used, the best advise I can give you is to move around with a paper and a pen at all times.

The essence of this is to give you the opportunity to sketch out landmarks or pass information across through the use of sketched drawings and pictures thereby making communication a lot easier and canceling out the chances of misinformation or misunderstanding. 

From what I have said, you can deduce that the best thing to do if you are not good at drawing is to commence working on your drawing skills.

Alternatively, you can move around with arranged pictures of landmarks or places you want to visit, this way, locals can easily give you directions to that place.

5. Patience Is An important Tool

Sincerely speaking, it’s not easy learning and understanding a foreign language. You can’t compare yourself to someone who has spoken this same language all through their life, therefore, you have to exercise some level of patience if you must overcome the language barrier.

It’s okay to feel frustrated sometimes, confused and even lost. In fact, inability to understand what someone is saying or what you are saying is in itself a huge problem. 

That being said, patience is very necessary because there are cases where you have to speak louder, use descriptions, or be observant to be able to communicate with the other party.

The use of signs and demonstrations have over time become an effective and reliable  method to adopt while communicating. For instance, when you want to ask someone for direction to a snack shop or eatery, you can pretend to eat with an invisible spoon in your hand, and the person would understand your request.

Also, carrying a pen and a paper with you at all times is another helpful method of communicating, as I have earlier started.

6. Use Translation Apps

The introduction of technology has made everything easier only if you know how to utilize them. In this case, this technology can be adopted in trying to deal with various languages while making your trip.

The use of technology can save you a lot of time and stress of asking people questions and also improve your communication skills in a foreign language, and prepare you ahead of time on how to interact with locals.

If you want to take this route, the first thing you should do is to compile a few words and phrases that you know you will usually apply in conversations, translate them using a translation app, practice them regularly, and save them on your device during your journey.

Trip lingo, Google Translate, and the word point are some of the reliable translation apps you can depend on for assistance. 

7. Regularly Move With A Phrasebook Or Pocket Dictionary

Although technology is largely recognised across the world, there are still some rural areas where you will have problems with the internet receptivity or there may probably be no electricity.

This will leave you stranded, therefore, I advise that you don’t depend on just digital technologies such as the translation apps I just mentioned or phones in overcoming language barriers while traveling.

That being said, you are left with no choice other than to return to other old fashion techniques such as going with a pocket dictionary or mobile phrasebook and carrying it along with you anywhere you are going. 

This suggestion will in no small measure help you in areas where you can’t rely on technology.

8. Be Direct With Your Point/Question

When you are communicating with a foreign language, going straight to the point by just saying the word, avoiding additional phrases will be helpful and less stressful instead of confusing them and also yourself.

For example, you can easily say “photo?” and use your hand to further demonstrate in a bid to pass information across instead of saying things like ” can you help take a photo of me and my friend?”.

Consider this to be an easy hack and shortcut when you are communicating in a foreign language.

Furthermore, please don’t use slang or idioms when communicating, for instance, instead of saying “restroom or bathroom”, say “toilet”, also, say “it’s raining heavily” instead of saying “It’s raining cats and dogs”, this way, you will help avoid unwarranted confusion as it is a more simple and precise approach.

9. Ensure You Have Fun and Enjoy The Process

When learning or communicating in a foreign language, you have to do it with fun and try as much as possible not to take it too personally.

Always have in mind that it will be challenging. As I said earlier, it’s okay to be lost in a conversation at some point, it’s not a bad omen, it doesn’t mean you are slow or you are having a hard time comprehending information. 

That being said, be free to ask questions, try as much as possible to use the words you learned in communicating with locals since practice they say, makes perfect.

Although you might not get the exact pronunciation at first, it may even sound odd and imperfect, however, with practice, patience, and a smile you will earn yourself friendly locals who would be willing to teach you upon seeing the efforts you are already making – they will only be willing to meet you halfway.

In conclusion, I know that the language barrier is a huge challenge, however, let it not be a limitation.

Of course, you should know that one thing communication does especially when it has to do with speaking to people from various cultures is to improve your understanding of life and become creative while generating success.

If you are able to put the aforementioned tips on overcoming language barriers during your travels just like I have given them to you, you will discover that communicating effectively in a foreign land will not be a hard nut to crack. 

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