The Best Tips for Traveling When You Don’t Know the Language

At some point in life, everyone should learn at least one foreign language. Knowing more than one language can lead to career and travel opportunities. However, not everyone has the luxury of learning a language in their spare time. If you’re one of those people, and you’re worried about how it may affect your upcoming vacation, here are some of the top tips for dealing with language barriers while traveling.

Practice Before You Go

With all the technological resources available, getting some language practice is easy. Between community resources, apps, and websites such as YouTube, building some basic language skills isn’t difficult.

If you’re going on vacation for a few days, you don’t have to worry about knowing every nuance of the language or having an extensive vocabulary. Just by practicing common phrases, you’ll begin to feel comfortable speaking the language, asking simple questions, and communicating basic needs. In most places, the locals will appreciate your efforts, even if you’re not fluent, and will help you along.

Try practicing the basics like the names of places you’ll be visiting and hotel locations so you can ask for directions if needed. Another trick to navigating language barriers is using hand gestures. Many people communicate by hand, and this can help if you are struggling to ask a question, navigate the city, or explain something. 

Of course, if you have the time and money, and you want to know more than just a few phrases, you can take a class. Local community colleges are a great option for this. Your local library or community center may also have more informal classes or practice sessions where you can learn a new language from a fluent or native speaker for free. Be sure to check online for language practice groups as well.

Use Technology

Technology is your friend. Between apps like Duolingo and Google Translate, several language learning tools are at your fingertips. Quite possibly the most popular option for travelers is Google Translate. This service provides translations for hundreds of languages and is generally accurate. 

It is important to keep in mind that there are some 6,500 languages in our world, and, in many places, there are different dialects among different cultures. For example, if you are traveling to Florida, a state where Spanish is frequently used, different words can have different meanings depending on whether you are speaking to someone who is of Puerto Rican heritage or someone who is of Venezuelan heritage. However, the upside to this is that many dialects are mutually intelligible, meaning that the speakers can still understand each other, even if they use different words for some things. 

When you are practicing, be sure to write down or say phrases that you’ll use the most to provide quick responses that are easily accessible when you need them. By focusing on the things you might say frequently, it’ll help you relax and enjoy your vacation more. If there are extra things you want to know, you can always learn from the source itself—whether it’s the server at a restaurant or the staff at your hotel.

Other technologies and tools you can use includes:

  • Dash Pro wireless ear buds: These small headphones offer real-time translation, which minimizes the pressure of remembering phrases or missing important information.
  • Iconspeak T-shirts: These tee shirts feature a variety of icons, allowing travelers to point to the images to communicate.
  • Chatbots: Chatbots are one of the most easily accessible language resources. Apps like Duolingo have chatbots that offer help with real-time translation and give you different ways to say common phrases. Google Interpreter, iTranslate, SayHi, and Papago are a few other options in this category.

Do Your Research Before You Go

Doing your research can aid in the amount of time you spend preparing for language barriers. Depending on where you’re traveling, you may not need to prepare so much. Usually, the people who live and work in well-traveled destinations are often fluent in other languages besides their own. Expect to find fewer speakers of your language the further you travel from large urban areas, however. Travel books and blogs are a great resource and can give you a good idea of what to expect. 

Traveling to a foreign country is exciting, but it can also make some people a little nervous, especially when it comes to language barriers. When you use the resources that are available to you, you can eliminate much of that stress and enjoy your vacation. When you arrive at your destination, listen to people, observe their behavior, and be respectful. Don’t be shy—try your best to speak the language at your destination and accept help gracefully. Learning a foreign language is one of the most enriching experiences in life, and if you treat your vacation as a learning opportunity, you’ll get much more out of it.