Traveling To Countries Where You Don't Know the Language

by Ronaldo Stewart

It is estimated by the Office of Travel and Tourism that in 2013, over twenty-nine million Americans traveled overseas, the countries that they mainly traveled to were countries where English was not the first language. Although generally, tourists can get by speaking English only, being able to understand as well as communicate in the native tongue is a huge part of cultural immersion. This does not mean you have to speak the language fluently, however knowing a few key phrases will not only help you to make the most out of your international travels, and it will also help keep you safe.

Here are a few suggestions that will help you have better communication with the locals in no time:

1. Learn Ahead of Time

It will probably be very overwhelming to try and learn a bit of the language after you have arrived, so take the time to tackle some of the language basics before you depart. The focus should not be placed that much on learning the correct grammar rules as you would when taking a foreign language class; it should be more about learning words and phrases that are commonly used and will help enrich your interactions with the native speakers.

2. The Basics

Standard greetings for example "hello" and "goodbye," and of course "thank you," "please," "excuse me," and "sorry" are important to learn. Some other phrases that come in handy include; "I don´t know" and "please speak slowly." You will also save a lot of time by knowing how to ask certain questions such as: "How much does this cost?" and "Do you speak English?"

3. Better Safe than Sorry

A few distress phrases are important to learn; these will serve as a safety precaution. Even if you never have to use them, knowing a few words such as "emergency," "help," and "police" will help you feel more at ease.

4. Quality not Quantity

Avoid trying to cram in a lot of useless vocabularies. A better option is to look for a list of the words that are most commonly used in a particular language; those are the ones you should commit to learning. Memorizing one hundred words is a lot easier than taking on one thousand words.

5. You Are Not Alone

According to a Priceline report in 2014, fifty-three percent of tourists learn words and phrases that are useful before their travels as to better interact with the locals. Another idea is to use websites such as to find fellow language students as well as fluent speakers to practice communicating before you travel. Look into any cultural events happening in your community; you may even find native speakers there as well.

6. Use Your Smartphone

Over sixty percent of tourists already use their phones to find restaurants, local stores, and directions, however, according to Priceline, only about thirty percent of visitors use it to translate a foreign language. By using your phone as a tool for translating, you will be able to ditch your phrasebook.

7. Suggested Websites

If there has ever been a time in which you needed to translate a website, chances are you have used Google Translate. If this is the case, then you are in great company: over two hundred million people the world over use Google Translate on a monthly basis, not only on the Web but also on their phones.

Statistical machine translation is used by this service to scan documents in eighty various languages and then decipher what the proper translations are. Even though when it comes to translation apps it is one of the most popular; it is important to remember that you will have to have an Internet connection to be able to use it.

With Word Lens, you can capture pictures of signage, and other words that are printed with the camera in their phone and translations are displayed in real time, this is ideal for navigating public transportation, foreign streets and even menus at a restaurant. This app is free, and currently, six languages can be translated into English, another bonus is that it does not require an Internet connection to be used. There is, however, something it will not do, and that is recognizing handwriting.

Translate Professional is another free and popular app that does not require data usage; it includes over three hundred phrases for each of the languages it translates which are over fifty. This app provides you with multiple features, these include a function for translating texts and voices into eighteen languages, and these are available for purchase.

8. Interact With the Locals

According to Priceline, sixty-nine percent of locals enjoy tourists that are excited and curious about their city, and one way to illustrate your enthusiasm is trying to speak their language. Being familiar with commonly used phrases and knowing how to ask questions can make it easier to hold conversations and can help lead you to local shops and restaurants where your experience will be more authentic. If you mispronounce some words, do not worry about it, respectfully making an attempt is always appreciated.

9. Write It Down

All key information such as the address and phone number to the hotel you are staying at should be jotted down in the local language, this way a native speaker can help guide you if the need arises. If nothing else works, use body language and gestures. However, make sure that you research the country's etiquette so as to avoid offending the locals. For example, the gesture of raising an open palm that America's would view as a high-five gesture, in Greece is viewed as if you were flipping someone the bird.

Fortunately, there are many international destinations that learn English as their second language. So if you find yourself completely stuck, there is always someone, even the concierge at your hotel, who probably speaks English.

About the writer

Ronaldo Stewart is the founder of a digital marketing agency called Switch Lead and helps businesses optimize their website for better search engine rankings. He has traveled the world from a young age and has lived in several countries ranging from Japan to Germany.


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