Fact: There are 7 continents, 190+ countries, and over 6,000 languages spoken on this planet Earth.
Fact: I fluently speak 1 of those 6,000+ languages – English (mostly American English to be precise). I speak a bastardized version of 7 or 8 languages (including other versions of English).
Fact: Traveling as a “monoglot” often leads to some very interesting…”conversations”.
Happy Tuesday everyone! Thanks to a holiday on Monday and the usual (every other) Friday off, I have a 3-day week and I’m thrilled! As it’s the last Tuesday of the month, we have a theme this week – languages. As noted above, I only really speak English with fluency, so today I thought I’d share some of my tips for traveling to those places in the world that don’t speak your native language.
1. Learn a few key phrases before you go. I promise this can save you many headaches as you travel along. At a minimum I usually try to learn the common greeting (hello!, etc.), yes, no, please, thank you, and sorry/excuse me. There are phone apps that will give you the correct pronunciation or you can even find some examples on Youtube. Ah technology, you leave no room for excuses. (smile) Knowing these words – and using them no matter how bad the pronunciation – lets the locals know that you respect them and you are trying. Combined with a sheepish look/smile and a great deal of patience, these phrases can also take you places you wanted to go and others you never knew existed.
2. Give yourself time to get acclimated. Even when conversing with other English speakers, I may not always catch the dialect/accent immediately. I’ve generally found that I have a 1-3 second processing delay while my brain computes what it heard into my American English. It’s frustrating at times, but getting frustrated is the number one way to get yourself into trouble/ruin an experience. When someone speaks to you, give yourself a moment to process. Chances are, even if it’s a language you never even knew existed, you can figure out the general meaning by putting together context, voice inflection, etc. This isn’t always 100% foolproof, but it’s certainly better than walking away complaining about how not everyone in the world speaks your language.
3. Leave the dictionary at home – bring pen and paper instead. I’m the first to admit that I have a section of foreign language dictionaries on my travel book shelf. Please note that I am making a distinction here between guide book, phrase book, and actual translation dictionaries. The first two are helpful, the third is just outdated. I’m sure the dictionary may come in handy once in a while, but on the whole I’ve found that a blank piece of paper and a (not-on-purpose) comical stick figure drawing can be just as, if not more, effective than standing around flipping through pages. Not to mention that those dictionaries use the “proper” form of the language, which may not always translate the way you want it to depending on who you’re trying to converse with. I usually have the person write down the word I’m looking for with the picture for posterity – once I have the association, it tends to stick better!
4. Don’t be afraid to look silly. When traveling with my friend, we had the perfect tag-team system going – I could usually make out what the local was saying so I translated the sentiment to her. She then communicated our response back to the local (my dear “Southern Belle” accent just adds to the confusion). By playing on each of our strengths, we were able to get around many places where there wasn’t an English speaker in hollering-distance. I’ll grant you there was a lot of miming (and drawing), but it worked out – and usually seemed endearing to the poor local that had to deal with us. The best mannerism I picked up from my friend was eye contact and a smile – not a stare and a clown face, but a very brief acknowledgment of our gratitude for the other person’s willingness to help us out. Besides making us experts at charades and pictionary, it also gave us many fun stories to share (smile).
How do you navigate language barriers??