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Language Barriers

by Meredith Wilshere

Photography courtesy of Boston University World Languages and Literature

When we travel somewhere new, we depend on various forms of communication throughout the trip. Whether it is understanding your guidebook, asking a local for directions or chatting with a cab driver about a city’s most highly regarded ‘hot-spots,’ communication is crucial. If you travel to a country where you do not know the language, you are more than likely to encounter a few unfamiliar tongues. Here are a few tips on how to get by and still make the most of your experience in a country where communication isn’t always easy.

Prepare Beforehand

In a perfect world, you would be fully prepared before you traveled to a country where the native language is different than your own. Websites and downloadable daily apps are great tools for learning the lingo. A great example of this is Duolingo, which is a user-friendly app that tracks your progress and allows you to add multiple languages. It is geared toward key words and daily phrases that help jump-start your learning. If you are interested in the minutiae of the language, try different programs like Rosetta Stone—but you’ll need more time and practice for those. However, in a pinch, daily apps can help you get comfortable with the language and used to its sounds.

Learn a Few Simple Phrases

If you can’t commit to learning a new language entirely, just jot down a couple of common phrases that can help you get by in a situation where you’ll need them. Expect the unexpected. Anticipate the questions you may need to ask locals, such as directions, menu items and prices. Write the notes down in a readily available notebook to help you when you are extremely stuck. It may be even better to write down how certain words and phrases are pronounced, too. To start, it is always a good to know how to say things like “hello” and “goodbye,” as well as “please,” “thank you” and simple answers to questions like “yes” or “no.” If you plan on making purchases during you trip, understanding the currency is very important and can help you make economic decisions. These simple phrases and topics alone can go a long way and can even help you start to make friends abroad.

Take Your Time and Be Patient

Although going to a country where you don’t know the language can seem daunting, don’t let it scare you. No one expects you to figure it all out on the first try. Try expressing yourself through hand gestures and facial expressions—sometimes you don’t need any words at all.

Traveling to a new place and a new country can be incredibly exciting. Don’t let language be a barrier. Immerse yourself in new cultures, try out the popular phrases and the enjoy the beauty of a new language.

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