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2021-03-25 00:01:19

How to travel if you don't know foreign languages?

How to travel if you don't know foreign languages?

Travel is an adventure of a lifetime. Often it is associated with language barriers - it is impossible to learn all the languages of the world. But there are a number of strategies to help keep communication barriers to a minimum.

Use body language

Use body language is a tool for understanding. In a restaurant, look for the desired dish in the photo and in the window - point to it. Ask a neighbor-like dish if it looks good.

Smiles, nods, shrugs, and gestures help convey a message. Be careful - gestures have the opposite meaning in different parts of the world! Thumbs up, signifying approval in European countries and the United States , is considered rude and offensive in Latin America, West and South West Africa, Iraq, Iran, Pakistan and Afghanistan.

Eye contact

Gestures and other things have different meanings. For example, in China , eye contact is treated differently than in the United States: Americans believe that this is how you pay attention and show respect to a person, while the Chinese consider it a manifestation of aggression and defiant behavior.

Physical touch

Attitudes towards contacts differ: in Latin America or Arab countries, personal contact is highly valued, considering it an important element of interpersonal communication. In cultures such as Japanese or Scandinavian, they prefer to keep their distance and even taboo handshakes, replacing them with bows.


Associated with physical touch is the concept of intimacy - how close people are to each other in different social settings. The Japanese stuff themselves into a train carriage like herring into a barrel, but they consider it aggressive behavior to speak to a stranger.

Before visiting an unfamiliar country, try to learn the peculiarities of local gestures and signs. What matters is how you stand and walk, what you do with your hands and where you look. Try to avoid involuntary gestures.

Know how to get around

Invest in maps or GPS

You will spend less time getting directions if you have an up-to-date street map or a Global Positioning System (GPS) device. The simplified cards that you can find at the hotel are not suitable. When planning your trip, make sure that the countries you plan to visit have GPS device map data.

When traveling in Europe, you usually have a choice: use a smartphone app or rent a GPS navigator when paying for your car rental.

Follow the sights

Even if you have a map and GPS service, keep an eye on the landmarks as you pass so you don't get lost and be able to return to your hotel. There is always a chance that you will lose your card (or the battery will die).

The landmark method is especially good for walking. But even while driving, remember that “turning left at the purple building” and “walking towards the church with a high bell tower” can help you find your way home.

Use an app to translate to street signs

Indexes are printed in clear, standardized fonts to facilitate the use of translation applications. Keep an eye on the streets - and losing a map or device failure with a navigator will not be a problem.

Be polite

Learning to pronounce a couple of basic words and phrases like “please,” “thank you,” and “hello,” can help you find friends when traveling. Taking the time to do this will pay off in terms of the help you get. It demonstrates respect for the country by showing that you are willing to make an effort to be understood. We also recommend that you learn “sorry” and the local equivalent of “sorry”.

Try to learn at least an approximate pronunciation of these phrases. This is difficult to do with a phrasebook - try using an app that reads phrases aloud. Knowing basic pronunciation will make life much easier for the people you are talking to. The locals will appreciate it.

Speak clearly and slowly: accent can make it difficult for locals to understand you, so rushing is your worst enemy. Use simple phrases and you will greatly reduce the risk of being misunderstood or unintentionally offending someone.

Watch others

When you don't know the language, you can learn a lot by observing others. Follow the example of others. Remember that social mistakes are inevitable, no matter how careful and observant you are. If you inadvertently offend someone, apologize and explain that you are a neophyte.

Be thick-skinned

Do not be offended by the strange behavior of strangers: in Italy, for example, pushing in a public place is not considered rude. The person simply does not understand the claims on your part, and in fact he probably did not want to offend you.

Before the trip, we advise you to study the Internet for requests "cultural characteristics" "traditions" "gestures" in relation to the country of destination. You will learn that in Bermuda they traditionally use "Good morning" and "Good afternoon" instead of "Hello", that in Holland it is not customary to be late, and in the USA it is not customary to arrive on time. Show your respect. You visit someone else's home, get ready to adapt to the environment: you are not a colonizer!

Learn more foreign words

Traveling abroad is time to learn the language. The enthusiasm with which the locals appreciate the attempts to speak to them in their native language, regardless of the level of proficiency, is surprising.

Timely purchases

Pop into a bookstore and get yourself a dictionary and phrasebook, this is useful. If there is no store at hand, order at Ozone or (abroad) Amazon. Physical copies are better than electronic ones: they do not have batteries that run out at the wrong time.

A paper copy will also allow you to take notes in the margins - handy when learning foreign languages and is definitely worth the extra hundreds of grams of luggage.

Learn basic phrases

Try to learn at least a couple of phrases before leaving your home country. On the plane, occupy yourself with a phrasebook instead of stupid films - having arrived at a new place, you will have time to enrich your luggage with basic questions such as:

  • Where is the toilet?
  • Can you speak more slowly?
  • Where is the consulate?
  • How to get to the library?

It is important to learn how to explain your dietary restrictions (vegetarianism, allergies, gluten-free diet), say "please", "thank you" and "sorry".

Here are some important phrases that are useful in a foreign country. Learn them: it's better with them than without:

  • My name is N
  • I need a doctor.

Travelers are injured or sick. It is important to be able to ask for medical help before you are taken to the local morgue - an uncomfortable and unsympathetic place.

  • Where is the toilet?
  • I apologize
  • Where is the airport?
  • Where is Hotel N located?

Download the translator app

Technology is rushing to help international tourism, applications facilitate translation from foreign languages. Here is a list of the top three translation apps to download before you travel:

Google translator

Google Translate translates printed words, spoken language, photographs and handwriting, documents in a variety of formats - its versatility is hard to compete with.


Papago is an application for translating Asian languages. It includes several features to make the traveler feel right at home, including translation of speech, voice, text, dictionaries and phrasebooks. The interface is intuitive and allows you to save translations for later use.


TripLingo allows you to translate any phrase - official, official business speech, slang. The app includes educational phrasebooks, audio lectures and etiquette tips.

Keep in mind that depending on your data plan while roaming, using any GPRS transfer application can be prohibitively expensive. Please check with your carrier for roaming rates before allowing an app to download.

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Egor Eremeev
Current material has been prepared by Egor Eremeev
Education: Westminster University (Business & Management), London.
Egor studied and lived in the UK for 8 years and graduated from the university of Westminster. He is currently the co-founder and the director of business development at Smapse Education and personally visits foreign schools and universities, interviews students studying in those institutions.
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