Do’s and Don’ts of Traveling Where You Don’t Speak the Language Photo: iStock

Do’s and Don’ts of Traveling Where You Don’t Speak the Language

It might seem daunting to travel to a country where you don’t speak the language. But it’s not 1995 anymore! There’s no need to fumble around with paper dictionaries and tour groups. Thanks to technology (translation apps in particular), the language barrier is no barrier at all.

Still, if you’re traveling a country where you don’t speak the language, you must be aware of the cultural differences and other obstacles that could get you in trouble. That language app isn’t going to help you much if you have to deal with foreign law enforcement. So here are some do’s and don’ts to journeying beyond the language barrier in a foreign country.

Do Learn A Few Key Phrases

An ideal tourist is a polite tourist, who respects the customs of the country they’re visiting. Learning basic phrases like please and thank you can go a long way toward getting good service in restaurants, and avoiding suspicious glares. It may also be helpful to learn how to order food politely or ask for things at stores. 

Do Use Hand Gestures

Traveling in a country where you don’t speak the language is like playing a giant game of charades. Sometimes, hand gestures are essential to getting your point across. For example, if you order a dish by pointing and saying “please,” the next question from your server might be, “Beef or chicken?” If you don’t know how to say either of those, hand gestures and animal sounds are totally appropriate. 

Do Use Your Translation App When You Get Stuck

If you’re looking to buy something important, use your translation app. Things like subway passes, tickets to your next destination, or even train delay questions require professional help. Mess these things up and you might get stranded without a hotel room in a foreign country. Even if you hold up the ticket counter line, make use of that language app to get answers to imperative questions.

Do Ask Questions

The best way to get to know the locals and the local culture is to ask questions. If you’re at a bar and you have burning questions about the things you’ve seen that day, take out your translation app and have a conversation with the bartender that way. You can also go to groups where people are trying to learn English. This is a good way to meet locals, get your questions answered, and expand your vocabulary.

Do Your Research

As you plan your trip, do your research on your destination. It always helps to go in with some knowledge of the culture and the people. Watch a few YouTube videos from people who have traveled there before, or read some travel articles. These resources won’t give you the full picture, but they’re a good start.

Don’t Expect People To Speak English

Yes, a lot of people in the world speak English. But don’t assume that everyone in the country you’re in speaks it. In Europe, you’ll have more luck with English, but in Asian countries, there is a good chance that you’re on your own. Remember that tip about being polite tourist? Assuming that people speak your language isn’t very polite.

Don’t Make Assumptions, Period.

The best advice to any traveler is to keep an open mind. Some cultures have customs that seem counterintuitive or offensive, but remember, you’re not at home anymore. Viewing other cultures through the lens of your own, and making assumptions about people, doesn’t usually lead to a positive travel experience. Instead, recognize that you’re a guest in someone else’s home, and learn to view differences as an asset, not a detriment.