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Travel and Language Barriers

So, you’ve landed in a country where you don’t speak the native language…what do you do now? Don’t panic! First of all, it’s quite likely that the population at hand speaks a bit of English. Second, if you prep ahead of time, you won’t look like quite a disaster. And finally, keep a few language tools in your belt for when you need to really make a conversation work (or work better!).


If you know far enough in advance about your travel plans, you can plan ahead to have some working knowledge of the language (and customs) of the country you’ll be visiting. Visit your local library or bookstore or research books online. There’s a wide range of books from beginners’ guides to full blown study courses. Take some time (even if it’s on the plane ride) to immerse yourself a bit into the language you’ll be greeted with a few hours later.


One of the easiest ways to navigate a possible upcoming language barrier is to have a few key phrases memorized or written down with easy access. Saying hello or goodbye, ordering coffee, asking for a restroom, locating transportation, for example, are all generic phrases that you can put to memory easily. You can also keep a pocket-sized dictionary on you (or on your smartphone) for when you need to be reminded of translations.


These days, there are a seemingly endless number of apps that can help you navigate a language barrier. Google TranslateDuolingo, and others are among the most popular free apps you can download for learning or translation help. Here’s a list of six other popular language translation apps for 2020.


One of the easiest ways to get flustered during a language barrier is to make hasty decisions or speak too quickly, or, to get frustrated by the process. Memorizing how to say, “I don’t speak ____, do you speak English?” is a good way to get the message across that you are not from those parts.


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