How to Navigate Language Barriers on Your Travels

Do you find yourself getting cheated on your travels? Losing out on forming lifelong connections? Getting lost? And all because you don’t speak the language? Language barriers are very frustrating and they can ruin an otherwise lovely trip, but only if you let it!  

Here are 4 ways you can navigate language barriers on your travels.

Download a Language App

Apps are very handy! Take language apps for instance. 

You can use them to learn key phrases before your trips. This way, you can at least communicate the basics like ordering food, asking for directions, or bargaining for souvenirs. 

When choosing between language apps, look out for features like:

  • Audio recordings of native speakers
  • A phrasebook with key travel phrases
  • The ability to create your own custom phrasebook
  • Gamification features to make learning fun and engaging

Use Gestures 

If you find yourself in a situation where you just can’t seem to get your point across via language, try using gestures. Chances are, the person you’re trying to communicate with will understand what you’re trying to say.

For example, if you want to ask for directions, simply point in the direction you want to go and make a walking motion with your fingers. Or, if you want to ask someone to take a photo of you, hand them your camera or phone and point at the shutter button.

While you won’t be able to act out every single thing- “where is the assisted living facility?”, “what’s your opinion on the current geopolitical climate?”, etc- gestures are generally universal.

Write It Down

Write it down! This may seem like a no-brainer, but you’d be surprised at how often it works. 

Writing things down is an especially good idea if you’re trying to communicate with someone who doesn’t speak your language fluently but still knows a few words. They may not be able to understand you verbally, but they can probably read what you’ve written. This is because many people can read a language better than they can speak it.

All you need is a pen and a piece of paper (or even your phone’s notepad function will do in a pinch). 

Hire an Interpreter

If you can afford it, hire an interpreter

It’s the most effective way to enjoy any trip despite not speaking the language. An interpreter can help you do things like:

  • Book a hotel room
  • Go on a tour of a historic site
  • Attend a local concert or performance
  • Shop at a market

When hiring an interpreter make sure to look out for characteristics like fluency, patience, and an easy rapport. Some people lie about fluency and an interpreter who’s constantly irritable and unlikeable will put a damper on things. 

Language barriers can be frustrating, but they don’t have to ruin your trip. With these four tips, you can overcome any language barrier and make the most out of your travels!

Krissy Georgiadis
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Written by Krissy Georgiadis

Law graduate and wanderlust sufferer. I like rum and beaches.