Tips to Overcoming Language Barriers while Traveling

It happens pretty often – people who do not speak foreign languages avoid traveling to non-English speaking countries, or they think the language barriers aren’t worth overcoming for a one or two week vacation. Whatever the reasoning for this trend, the truth is that if you want to immerse yourself in new cultures, nothing should stop you. If you organize your trip in the right way, you will face no difficulties caused by the language barrier.

Let’s consider seven travel tips on how to overcome language barriers and get the most of your trip.

Learn Basic Words and Popular Phrases in Advance

If you have started to plan your trip in advance, that’s great! You still have time to learn some essential words that will help you to overcome the language barrier.

Remember that there is no magic method that can help you to learn a foreign language in a month, so you shouldn’t try to memorize dozens of grammar rules and hundreds of new words in a few weeks. Simply choose 100 the most widely used words and focus on those. Start your language learning journey from memorizing how to say “Hi”, “Thank you”, and “My name is Johan” (you will use these words more often than other words, so make sure that you pronounce them correctly). After that, you should learn a few basic verbs such as eat, drink, buy, want, sleep, go, and nouns such as water, food, price, hotel, hospital.

When traveling with Discover Corps, we provide you with a few basic phrases to get you started in your Pre-Departure Booklet. Above is a sample of how this works.

Use Translation Apps

Fortunately, we live in a digital age, and we can use new technologies to deal with language barriers. Another option is to get prepared for conversations with locals a week before you travel through a translation app. Write down a few of the phrases you think you may need to know, translate them using an app, and have them ready to go on your phone. Short translated notes like this one will save you lots of time and will let you enjoy your trip to the foreign country.

Here is a list of mobile apps that you can use to facilitate communication with locals.

  • Google Translate. This app works online and offline, and it allows translating text from photos. For instance, you can snap a picture of the menu at the restaurant, and the app will translate the text for you.
  • TripLingo. This mobile app allows you to translate your voice instantly, so if you want to sound like a local, don’t hesitate to try this app.
  • The Word Point. If traveling for work and you want to get assistance from professional translators, use this online service.

Below is a screenshot of what Google Translate looks like:

Take a Phrasebook or Pocket Dictionary with You

So let’s face it – when it comes to exotic destinations, you can’t always rely on digital technologies. We know there is no Wi-Fi in Costa Rican rainforests, and there is no electricity in small African villages, so in some cases, your phone and translation apps might be just useless.

For this reason, you should buy a phrasebook or a pocket dictionary and bring it everywhere with you. A tiny book in your backpack will add to your self-confidence and help out in a difficult situation.

Lean on an English-Speaking Guide

On many group trips, including Discover Corps trips, you will have a local guide there to support you who will speak both English and the native language. He/she can help you with translation and teach you a few things along the way if you get really stuck (but use this as your backup whenever possible!).

Our guide Karla has been guiding for 25 years in her native country of Costa Rica. Meet her on the Costa Rica: Wildlife Safari trip.

The Takeaway

Remember that you don’t have to be fluent in foreign languages to travel the world, and in fact locals love to see travelers making an effort to speak their native language – even if you don’t know many phrases! You will be welcomed and usually learn a thing or two along the way to truly enjoy your trips to the fullest.

Erica Sunarjo is a professional writer, translator, and editor with a Master’s degree in Marketing and social media. She writes thought- provoking articles for publications in a variety of media and is an active member of the translator community.

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