Three Ways to Navigate Language Barriers While Traveling

No matter the borders you cross while exploring the world, you’re bound to encounter language barriers during your travels. While language fluency can create a more immersive travel experience, embracing the culture and having memorable adventures is still possible without knowing the local language.
Prepared By:

Wolf Johnson

In this article, we’ll go over three ways you can communicate effectively and enjoy yourself while traveling despite language barriers.

1. Break Down Body Language Barriers

Regardless of what language someone speaks in a conversation, body language is a part of communication that all people have some experience with. For example, certain gestures such as a smile, a wave, or a nod of the head can be helpful during friendly exchanges. Similarly, there are ways your body language can help you communicate when you encounter language barriers while traveling. If you’re at a restaurant abroad and don’t know what to say to order, kindly point to items on the menu. If you’re in transactions or asking someone a question, these can be efficient, effective, and respectful ways to engage in a dialogue without having to learn the specific lingo.

Use body language to navigate language barriers

2. Know Some Basic Phrases

Another tip for communication during an international trip is to have a “toolbox” of phrases handy or to bring a form of simple translation. You don’t need to know how to have a full conversation in another language (unless you’d like to), just plan out a few useful phrases for your trip. For example, memorize phrases like “thank you”, “I need help” or “Where is the bathroom?” in the native language of your destination. If that proves to be challenging, use a digital or hardcopy translator, like a free option online or a pocket phrasebook. Having different options for your phrases will help you be prepared, confident, and safe as you navigate travel that involves language barriers.

Research before you travel to manage language barriers

3. Use Kindness: the Universal Language

Finally, and perhaps the most important tip here, be mindful and kind. Whether it’s with non-verbal or verbal tips, it’s important to be friendly and respectful with both approaches of communication. Many different countries and cultures have varying social cues, so be aware of these before your trip. For example, a thumbs-up gesture means good intentions in some places, but in some other countries it is a rude or offensive gesture. Despite the language barriers we encounter, kindness is a universal language, so always show up respectfully to a conversation. 

Kindness can break down language barriers
These are just a few pieces of advice you can use to navigate language barriers and better immerse yourself during your next international adventure.

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