This post is part of the Ask Alex, Travel Question Wednesdays weekly series. To see previous questions click here. To submit your own; tweet it to @AlexBerger, ask it in a comment on this post or send it in by e-mail.
This week’s travel question is from Matt B. he asks,
Q. “When traveling what is the best way to overcome language barriers in foreign countries?”
A. – Smile and relax. That’s it. At the end of the day the majority of communication is non-verbal, and while specific words can definitely be immensely helpful – they’re often an added benefit, but not core requirement for effective communication. Accept that there may be a language barrier, smile, be friendly, relax, and strive to communicate. What happens to most of us when we realize the language barrier is an issue is that we stop trying. We stop talking. We draw out our sentences and get stiff/nervous which shuts down our non-verbal communication. In short, just because we can’t say the right word, we stop communicating all together. The trick is to continue on with the conversation, and not to sweat the small stuff. Gesture, draw, act out, repeat, shrug and move on to different explanations as needed. If all else fails, you can usually find a third person or party to join the conversation as a temporary translator.
The language barrier is often a huge concern, but I’ve never found it to be insurmountable. For a more in-depth look at my relationship, experiences and advice on languages and travel explore the following three posts: Can I Travel if I don’t Know the Local Language?, Stop Asking “Do you speak X language”, and How “Howdy” Has Made Me a Better Traveler.
Would you like me to elaborate on an aspect of this response? Let me know!