Traveling is great fun, as long as you accept its various challenges as part of the thrill of traveling. One really frustrating challenge for the international traveler is the language barrier. Perhaps we should type that in caps; it’s that big an issue. Still, it can be overcome, if you understand exactly what to do about it. Here are 15 ways to deal with the language barrier.

  1. Always show respect for the local language: Getting yourself understood by the locals is a two-way deal, not one-way. Locals are sometimes suspicious of foreign travelers, but if you show the right level of respect, admiration and appreciation for their language and customs, they will warm up to you.
  2. Know which language is spoken: A number of languages may be spoken in a single country. Know which language is spoken locally in the area where you are. Try to learn phrases from it, rather than antagonizing people with a language they may resent.
  3. Make an effort to learn some words: Learn how to say good morning, hello and how do you do in the local tongue. Apart from that, learn the right phrases to ask for help in an emergency, directions, way to the bathroom and so on.
  4. Use technology: If you have a smartphone, download a language app that can articulate local phrases for you. Repeat after the phrases and learn. If you are still not able to speak properly, use the app to convey what you need to. One good app is Word Lens, for Spanish to English translation.
  5. Learn local customs:Watch out for body language and see how the locals behave. In India, you don’t point with your feet and in Japan, you don’t walk into a house with your footwear on. Local people will realize you’re trying to fit in and will appreciate the effort.
  6. Don’t’ be too sensitive: Remember you’re the foreigner and the oddity. The locals may pass comments in their languages, some of it offensive to you. Mostly they think you won’t understand. Even if you do, don’t react to negative judgments of your body or clothing style. Develop a thick skin.
  7. Carry a common phrase book: Take the time to practice basic words first and use the book as reference only. Respect people’s time; don’t think they are there to help you navigate. People may forgive you for not knowing the language but lack of respect is quite another thing.
  8. Check if they speak English: Find out if the person speaks English before you start stumbling in the local tongue. You just might be lucky to find people who can manage a few words in English.
  9. Speak slowly: Articulate each word carefully, so that your accent does not confuse the listener. Don’t speak loudly – people do this at times, and it’s very insulting. Local people aren’t deaf, you know. Stick to the easiest words you can manage – you don’t need to string them together to form sentences. Forget grammar.
  10. Speak proper English: US English has evolved a great many slang words over the years that are now considered part of the language. Remember people in other countries may not understand slang. Stick to basic English, the stuff you studied at school.
  11. Figure things out: All European languages including English have a base in Latin. If you know a bit of Latin, study street and bus signs and figure out the names of places and things. Read the local newspaper and see if you can spot any words you understand. Tune in to the languages you hear on a multilingual tour and develop a fine ear for nuances.
  12. Carry a notebook: If you are not able to communicate properly, write down the spelling of the words you’re trying to pronounce. Or, draw pictures of what you’re looking for, such as a toilet. This will help you convey your needs.
  13. Ask for clarification: Don’t assume that you understood what you’ve been told. Ask for clarification politely and make sure the information is correct. If you’re self-conscious, you might just nod shyly and walk off, even if you haven’t really understood anything.
  14. Avoid idioms: US English has many idioms that have made their way into mainstream communication. For example, phrases such as ‘hit the floor running’, and ‘straight off the bat,’ and ‘give me a ballpark figure’ will be met with blank stares.
  15. Use gestures wisely: It’s ok to use gestures to help you convey your meaning, but make sure your gestures are respectful. Gesturing and uninhibited behavior may be ok in Italy or in France, but in Japan, India and China they will be considered inappropriate. Exercise your judgment and use gestures wisely.