When it comes to traveling, a lot of people have a fear of “how will I get around in a country that doesn’t speak my language?” Even though that is a valid thought to have as there are over 6,500 languages in the world, but that still does not mean there are not ways to get around and communicate with the locals. Having a language barrier can be tricky, but traveling does not have to be hard and it does not need to be a reason to prevent you from traveling there.
I know it can seem intimidating not knowing if you will be able to get around and explore a country when you don’t know any of the language, but I listed the best ways to fix this so you can travel the world with ease.
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Google Translate is one of my best friends while traveling. The app has come in handy SO many times and it’s a great way to communicate, ask questions, and get around when the person you are talking to doesn’t speak your language.
With Google Translate, you can take a picture of something like a sign or a menu and have it translate to your language. You can type whatever you want to say and have it translate to the local language. You can also have the person speak or type into the app and have it translate to your language. The app is so handy and is a very easy and convenient way to talk to someone in a country that doesn’t speak your language.
Before going to a country you are traveling to, it’s always best to Google key phrases that you might want to know. Try learning the key phrases or screenshot it. This way when you are in a rush and need something, you can easily communicate to the locals.
Some key phrases to learn:
“Do you speak English?”
“Where is the ___”
“Where is the toilet?” *sidenote: in America, we use the word ‘bathroom or restroom’ and in Canada, they use the word ‘washroom’. Just say ‘toilet’ as that is the universal language… I know it sounds improper and weird, but no one understands what ‘bathroom’ is in other countries. Everyone knows ‘toilet’.
“Vegetarian – no meat, no seafood” (or any other dietary restrictions)
There’s this universal language that you will soon pick up on while traveling. It’s a language that everyone simply understands and is able to communicate with each other. That universal language is body language and hand gestures.
Even if you are unable to communicate with the locals and you are having a difficult time, using universal body language and hand gestures as a form of communication can help a lot. You can point to things that you need, mimic or act it out, or just try to communicate using symbols, hands, and movement.
*sidenote: make sure to look up if there’s any hand gestures that are considered offensive in the country you are traveling to. For example, a thumbs-up can be offensive in other countries.
Learn the Language
Learn the language! The great thing about traveling is being able to immerse yourself in the country, culture, and interact with the locals. Learning different languages and getting to know the locals is such a beautiful experience.
- You can download an app like Duolingo to help learn the langauge.
- You can join a local Meetup where you’ll able to mingle with the locals.
- Go on a date with a local. A lot of people like doing this. This is a great way to meet a local, learn the language, and get to know the people of the country you’re traveling in.
- Communicate with the locals at the market, accommodation, restaurant, cafe, etc. A lot of locals love when you try to learn their language and speak with them. It’s fun for them and they usually enjoy helping you learn.
Kindness of Strangers
When you need help, ask someone! Look around and find someone that you think will be able to help you. Ask for assistance. If they’re able to help, they will try. If they’re unable to help, then that’s okay. Try another person. Don’t be afraid to ask around.
People tend to be nice and like helping people out. There’s been many times where I was not able to communicate with the locals or didn’t know how to do something, and another local nearby would overhear and help me. People love helping people out.
This happens a lot. A lot of times people just want to help. This is one of my favorite things about traveling – seeing the kindness of strangers helping each other out. It’s just so beautiful.
English Is Common
Even if English is not your primary language, you most likely know some English. A lot of places or locals speak a little bit of English, especially younger people.
This isn’t always the case, but there might be someone who knows a little bit of English.
I’m an old fashion kind of gal and LOVE using a physical map. It’s so fun to me and I love navigating and discovering places using a local map. Every time I get to a new location, I get a free map from my accommodation and the front desk staff always circles the top places to go to and what they recommend. Using a map is a great way to easily get around.
In addition to using a physical map, I always use Google Maps. Google Maps or Maps.me is a great way to get around and explore a new destination.
I always recommend looking at your map/phone and putting it away right after so you don’t look like a lost tourist walking around and become an easy target.
Embrace it!! One of the best things about traveling is being able to immerse yourself in different cultures, different languages, different countries and different cities, while also learning how to navigate and rely on yourself.
Although it might seem scary, it’s actually one of the best parts of traveling. It’s good to push yourself out of your comfort zone, out of your “normality” and have that instant rush of depending on yourself to survive. You grow so much as an individual too.
Trust me, I LOVE routine, knowing exactly where I’m going and what I’m doing, and love familiarity, but there’s something beautiful about getting lost, relying on yourself, and being able to depend on yourself to communicate and get around. So embrace it, have fun, and enjoy the process.
Remember, it’s not as hard or scary as it seems. I know it may seem intimidating but lean into this part of traveling and enjoy it. All of the tips in this post will help you learn and easily get around in a country that does not speak your language. Try one or all of the tips as needed. This will help you navigate in a foreign country and communicate in a language that you do not know.
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