Everyone who have travelled around South East Asia are familiar with this challenge. It can be annoying and frustrating and can affect your overall experience in the country. So I made a least on how to deal with a language barrier in non-english speaking countries based from my own personal experience.
1. Have a copy of your tickets and destination written in local words.
Not all countries are using the english alphabet and many locals including your cab drivers will not able to read your hotel address written in English. Most booking sites or hotels asks their guests to print a copy of the locally written hotel reservation, this saves you the hassle of finding your accommodation quickly. If you don’t have it when you arrived, you can ask the local people who can speak english to write a translation for you. You just need to hand it over to your taxi driver and he will understand your destination.
How to Deal With a Language Barrier – Finding my way in Vienna Airport
2. Familiarize yourself with some basic words.
This is not limited on how to say thank you, good morning or good bye. Some basic words that you will need on your travel like direction, taxi, bus, time and even restaurant could be handy. Looks silly but some people doesn’t speak any single english word and restaurant is not the universal word for a place to eat. Sometimes, you need to speak a broken english for you to be able communicate effectively with the locals, looking for a taxi or restaurant? You just need to say the word (plus some action words) and they know you’re looking for one.
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3. Use the technology.
Your smart phone is not just for Facebook and Instagram. Leverage the use of technology with Google Translate and other similar applications. I’ve used it when I was in China and talking to a local vendor and I was asking for a discount. Download the app and practice some phrases or words prior to your visit.
4. Seek help from local friends.
Keep in touch with a local friend when you’re on the road. Getting a local sim card is really helpful and you just have to call your friend to talk to another local for immediate understanding. It’s too convenient that sometimes you don’t make an effort to learn any local words. Just be careful handing your smart phones to some strangers.
How to Deal With a Language Barrier – With my local friend Ophelie in Paris
This book have sample phrases you can use immediately in certain circumstances. When we were in Japan for the first time, the English to Japanese book that I brought has been really helpful. The taxi driver couldn’t speak any english and we communicated effectively using some phrases for him to enter the postal code and in local Japanese numbers. Also in the restaurant, simply requesting for an egg can be difficult without knowing it’s local word tamago. We want to pay the bill separately and we did not sweat in explaining it to them using the local phrase “Betsubetsu ni keisan shite kudasai”.
Any other tips you want to add on how to deal with a language barrier? Leave it at the comments section below.