Busting through the Language Barrier – Tips for Communicating Abroad

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Any avid traveler owes it to himself or herself to take a vacation abroad. Nothing can really compare to the feeling of being in a wholly different place, with a strange language buzzing in the air and a new culture to explore. English-speaking travelers enjoy a considerable advantage as well, as one often has to purposefully seek out vacation destinations where English is not a commonly spoken language. However, to truly encourage cross-cultural exchanges and friendships, you need to learn how to breach the language barrier.

The first and most important step is to master the basics, words and phrases like “hello,” “excuse me,” “thank you,” and other elements of basic social etiquette. You will almost certainly want to do some research into the elements of politeness at your destination, as different countries have different expectations for being polite. After you have mastered these basics, consider memorizing some useful phrases and questions, like “Do you speak English,” “The meal was wonderful,” “Where is the train,” or “Do you have a bathroom?” Be sure to bring along a basic phrasebook and a smart phone, if you own one. Travelers carrying smart phones have numerous resources available, including machine translation that can make navigating a foreign country a pain-free experience.

Of course, knowing the basics and carrying a phrasebook or translation app can only go so far. You should also bring along some paper and pens, or be prepared to draw in the dirt. Sometimes, language presents an impossible barrier that art can transcend, and this technique is doubly useful for getting directions. The concierge or front desk staff at a hotel will often be able to provide help with translations should you need it. However, you should be prepared to wait politely until they have plenty of time to help. Moreover, whatever your level of skill in the host country’s language, don’t succumb to embarrassment. Being courteous and a bit self-deprecating will take you far, and if you make an effort, you’re almost certain to find interesting people who are just as interested in learning English as you are in learning their language.

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