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By Bethany Union

How to travel abroad when you don’t speak the language

So you want to travel abroad, but don’t speak anything other than English. Don’t worry — that shouldn’t stop you from realizing your dream of becoming an intrepid world traveler. Just take a deep breath, book a ticket, and follow these steps:

  1. English, please? First of all, try English! Because English is an international language, many people usually speak some English no matter where you go. Their English may not be that good, but often their level may be enough that you can get some answers to basic questions — or they can lead you a friend who’s always looking for a native to practice with!
  2. Cram on the airplane. Grab a guidebook and learn a few essential phrases before your plane touches down. You should definitely be prepared to whip out a little of the local language in the event that no one speaks English. Useful phrases to learn could be “Where is?” “It’s called,” and words like “help,” “restaurant” and “toilet.” These words and phrases are simple but are enough to get the general meaning across.
  3. Write down your information. Before you go anywhere, be sure that all your crucial information is written down somewhere easily accessible. This will be useful when asking for directions, looking at maps, or trying to take a taxi. If the local language uses a different alphabet, be sure to have all the information in both English and the local alphabet. You should especially note the routes of your travel or download the offline Google map for your guidance.
  4. Find a bilingual friend. If you can, travel with someone who speaks both English and the native language. Not only will you have a fun traveling buddy, but you’ll have someone to translate for you in tricky situations. Don’t forget to take advantage of this person and learn a little bit of the language while you travel.
  5. Grab a pen. If verbal communication simply isn’t cutting it, grab a pen and a piece of paper and go nonverbal. Even if you’re not the best artist, a simple sketch should be enough to get your point across. If you don’t have a pen on hand, use your phone to translate. The goal is not always to communicate elegantly or completely, it’s simply to communicate and get your point across.
  6. Smile! The most useful tool you can have when communicating is being friendly and open. People are much more willing to go out of their way to help a friendly face, particularly if you’re making an attempt to communicate with them in the local language. Be kind, be patient and keep a friendly, patient expression on your face.

For any travel where you don’t speak the language, it’s important to not let your ego get in the way. If you insist on only using grammatically correct, accent-less sentences, you are going to be disappointed (and likely lost). However, if you open yourself up to doing whatever works best in the situation, you will be able to have a much more enjoyable trip.

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