How to survive the travel language barrier

How do you survive the language barrier?

Well really, you pretend it does not exist. I have never shied away from a particular location because of the difference in language, and never have I been stranded because I couldn’t speak the language. Well, there was that one time I was on a train in Japan, and an announcement came via intercom, and persons around me gasp, and I was clueless as to what they were saying.

I always say to my granny, English is king, in most countries persons are attempting to learn English. In Thailand, they try to impress you by speaking English, and will even recite facts of your country like the capital and Prime minister/President, not Barbados but most of the major countries. It’s all in an attempt to get the western dollars, but that’s another story. Most persons who go to Thailand, always return saying “same, same”. Those words are overworked by the vendors in Thailand, but I started using them when I stayed at a guest house in Chaing Mai. Every morning I would say to the cook “same, same”, showing her the palm of my hand, then the back of my hand, and she understood, I wanted the same breakfast I had the day before, and I wanted my eggs fried on both sides. Easy.

The only country where found it a bit more difficult to find English speaking persons was in Japan. Usually younger persons would be able to help, as they would have learnt in school, but that was not usually the case in Japan. Once, a lady and her mom approached me at he Hiroshima peace park, as she had just learnt to speak English. We chatted for a few minutes, while her mom stood there beaming obviously very proud. However, there are information desk at all the stations in Japan, and the staff there speak it very well.

5 Tips on how to manage the language barrier.

1. As obvious as it may seems, hand signals will get you very far.

2. Have a local (front desk clerk) who speak the language write directions in the native language, before you change locations. If you are lost on the street, or you have to get a taxi, you can show them the directions.

3. Younger persons in the country are usually more helpful, as well as the workers in stores where tourist frequent. Don’t be afraid to stop at a police station if that helps.

4. Take note of the signs around you. In Malaysia, “selamat datang” is posted everywhere, it means, welcome in Malay, and “tandas” means toilet. Those signs will help you survive.

5. Learn the basic greeting or at least the customs, “konnichiwa”, “sa wat dee krap” means hello in Japanese and Thai respectively, even though your pronunciation will probably be all wrong, at least you would appear to have manners. Also, it’s common to bow the head in Asia as a formal, informal type greeting.

These tips can help you survive without looking like a complete tourist. Remember they are as eager to learn from you as well. If on the other hand, you don’t want to just survive, and want to converse on another level. You can buy a book or download an app on the language.

Japanese Night Market

Japanese Night Market


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4 Responses to How to survive the travel language barrier

  1. I was surprised at the relative lack of English speakers in Japan, but before you give up, try writing in English. Just about everyone studies English in school, but they hesitate to speak it because they are afraid of making a mistake. One of the 3 alphabets they are required to learn is Romanji which uses the English alphabet, so they may be able to communicate if you write. We also useda translation program on my husband’s I phone which saved the day more than once. “No, I don’t want horse meat sukiyaki!”

  2. foongpc says:

    Great tips! Language barrier can be a challenge but it can also be great fun! : )

  3. Pingback: Asian Street Food | BAJANNOMAD.COM

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