How to Travel When You Don't Speak the Language

There's something a little nerve-racking about traveling to a foreign country, especially if you don’t speak the language. You may find yourself surrounded by directional signs, unable to read a word or symbol on them.  Locals will be speaking and telling stories and it might as well be Gibberish. But don’t let that stop you from exploring the places you want to see! Here are a few ways to make communicating with locals and getting through a foreign country simple and fun.

1.    Act It Out

You’d be surprised at how much you can communicate just by using non-verbals like hand gestures, facial expressions, pointing and miming.  Need a restroom? Crossing your legs with a confused look is pretty universal. Looking for a taxi? Mime it out. Or if all else fails, shout, "Does anyone speak English?" Just kidding. (Although that did work for us once in China!)

We use nonverbal communication all the time, often without realizing it. When traveling through a foreign place, it just becomes more noticeable (because you need to rely on it more!). You’ll realize that when your brain can’t understand the language, the signs and sounds move to the background and communicating on a simply human level become more obvious. Plus, throughout our travels we’ve learned that locals everywhere are often kind and willing to help.

2.     Get a Translation App

There are plenty of great resources out there for translating your English instantly. If you’re needing to translate a restaurant menu, travel guide, or train station sign, using an app will surely simplify the situation.

An easy to use, free option is GoogleTranslate, which gives you a written translation for anything you speak, photograph or draw on your touch screen. It includes 90 languages, 38 of which offer voice translations (at last count).  Other translation apps with various bells & whistles, and price tags include iTranslate, Waygo and TripLingo.

3.       Show What You Want

Snag one of these shirts and simply point out what you need to a local nearby! You can find these online and we’ll soon be offering a smaller, new and improved version in the SDA store.

Regardless of where you want to travel, don't let a language barrier hold you back from experiencing some incredible places.