Tips for Travelling in a Country Where You Don't Know the Language
The idea of travelling to a country where you won't be able to communicate in English can be daunting, but that is no reason to do away with your holiday plans altogether. There are lots of things you can do to make your journey easier.
1. Learn basic phrases
Unless you are thinking of travelling through rural areas of a country for months on end, learning the language isn't essential. However, it can be useful to learn some basic phrases. The main ones to find out before you travel are “Hello”, “Goodbye”, “Thank you” and “Do you speak English?”. It is also useful to learn “Call the police” and “I need a Doctor”. You're less likely to use them but they could be vital in an unfortunate situation. If you're set on learning more than just the basics, you could use Rosetta Stone or go to lessons before you travel.
2. Bring a good phrase book, dictionary or use Google Translate.
A phrase book can give you the basic but most important phrases you will need when travelling and a dictionary is very useful for the more unusual words. If you are able to access the internet on your travels, Google Translate is perfect to get your point across. Even if you have pronunciation problems, you can show someone the phrase or word written down in their own language and they will understand.
3. Be friendly and polite.
It may seem like a strange bit of advice, but if you look like a friendly person, whoever you are talking to is much more likely to want to help you. A small gesture, like a smile, can go a long way.
4. Buy a map
Even if you can't ask where a location is, anyone will understand you pointing at a map. It will help anyone you ask to give you directions, as you may not be able to pronounce the place names correctly. Not to mention, a map is a useful tool to give yourself an idea of your location at all times. It's a good idea to write down the name of your hotel and any places you know you're going to want to visit, and circle them on your map, just in case you get lost.
5. Remember that English is universal.
While there may be more Mandarin and Spanish speakers, English is the most widely used language in the world. Especially in the areas with lots of tourists, it is likely that the locals will have some basic English knowledge. Even if they can't construct complete sentences, they may be able to understand certain words. Speaking loudly is a bad idea (as many of us do when speaking to someone whose English isn't perfect), but speaking clearly and slowly will help them to understand you.
6. Don't be afraid to use body language
A lot of communication comes from your body rather than from your voice. Miming and hand gestures can be very useful. If you are looking for food, mime eating. If you are looking for a taxi, mime driving. It may seem awkward and embarrassing at first, but the more effort you put in, the easier it will be for people to help you. Alternatively, you can draw what you are looking for, or if you know the word in a language but struggle to pronounce it, you can write it down.
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