Traveling When You Don’t Speak the Language

English is one of the most popular languages in the world, which helps greatly when traveling outside the US.  But we can’t always assume that everyone is as willing or able to speak to us in English.  What can we do to get around comfortably in countries where we do not know the language without being the “ugly American?”

Know the basics.  People are appreciative of even a small effort by foreigners to speak their local language.  Learn how to “hello,” “please” and “thank you,” as well as “toilet,” “do you speak English?” “how much?” and “help.”

0_125347631Get directions in the native language.  Either print them online before you leave or have your hotel concierge help you by writing down the hotel, and any attractions you’re planning on visiting. This way you can show a taxi driver or someone trying to help you where you are trying to go using their native language. It’s great to make it easier on the person actually trying to help you.

Enjoy lessons with a local.  Make an effort to learn the local language by speaking with the locals. Once in Florence, Italy, my husband and I found some local college students at a pizza spot who were willing to converse with us.  They could practice their English and we could work on our Italian.

Ask the experts. Major tourist destinations such as Rome and Paris often have English versions of their restaurant menus. These will be given to you automatically upon arrival, but if you really want the foodie experience, ask the server for his or her favorite dish.

Be polite.  Don’t get frustrated with the locals when you are the visitor. Speak slowly and clearly and try to avoid slang.

Have a translator app available.  Be sure to download a few translator apps to help you communicate while traveling. Many now have audio translations available so that you can hear the proper pronunciation of a word or phrase. I like Jibbigo, which is available on iPad, iPhone and Android. It is available in offline mode after an initial download, which greatly saves on roaming charges.

If you really want to learn the language, Duolingo is a great website and app that has language learning programs and lessons for its users.

Have a good language barrier story or tip to share? Tell us about it!



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