Five ways to get past your language barrier excuse to not seeing the world

Although I have trav­eled to four of the seven con­ti­nents, I still only speak one lan­guage flu­ently – Eng­lish, my mother tongue. I am a ser­ial dab­bler in lan­guages (I can say good morn­ing and thank you in seven dif­fer­ent lan­guages), but have never fully taken charge of learn­ing to the con­ver­sa­tion­al­ist level. This might seem like a good rea­son to stay home and let my fear of get­ting lost in an unknown city keep me from see­ing new places and meet­ing new peo­ple. How­ever, in all my trav­els, I have only vis­ited one Eng­lish speak­ing coun­try – Canada, and they are only half Eng­lish speak­ing (plus it was Mon­treal, so it doesn’t really count). Whether I was in Sene­gal, France or the Domini­can Repub­lic, one thing I have learned is that most peo­ple you meet are wel­com­ing and will typ­i­cally go out of their way to help. But if you still need some reas­sur­ance, below are five tips that will help you knock out lan­guage bar­ri­ers while trav­el­ing the world. 1. Learn a few key phrases Learn­ing to say “hello”, “thank you”, “please”, “excuse me”, and maybe “I am lost.” Peo­ple really warm up to you if they see you have made an effort to learn even the slight­est bit of their lan­guage. You may also be sur­prised when they respond to you in English. 2. Be patient If you don’t under­stand, do not get frus­trated. Stay patient and smile. Keep­ing your mood happy and upbeat makes a busy passerby more anx­ious to help you get to where you are going. 3. Don’t be afraid to look silly Peo­ple will know you don’t speak the lan­guage, but don’t get offended if they chuckle at your pro­nun­ci­a­tion or cor­rect your gram­mar. Remem­ber you are learn­ing, so the way you roll your R’s might sound a lit­tle funny to a native speaker. Feel free enough to laugh at your­self, but hum­ble enough to learn from others. 4. Use ges­tures and body lan­guage There are uni­ver­sal signs that mean the same thing no mat­ter where you visit. Smil­ing while nod­ding your head up and down to mean “yes” and look­ing per­plexed while point­ing to a sign with a train or car will eas­ily help oth­ers deci­pher what you are say­ing. Also, say­ing “no” in a stern voice with a defi­ant look on your face will also get your point across in most, if not all, countries. 5. Prac­tice, prac­tice, prac­tice and learn the cus­toms Even if you still haven’t got­ten a grip on spe­cific words and phrases, get­ting com­fort­able with the cus­toms will go a long way with locals. Read a few books, down­load apps and watch tele­vi­sion in other lan­guages to get famil­iar with cul­tural dos and don’ts. If all else fails, go any­way! Learn­ing on the road can be the best teacher of all.
Have you decided not to ven­ture off too far from home because of lan­guage bar­ri­ers? Did you find this post help­ful in over­com­ing that fear? What are some other fears keep­ing you from your travel dreams? Let me know what your biggest fears are about see­ing the world. Leave a com­ment below and we will tackle them in a future post. This story was originally published 3 July 2012 on the Trotter website.

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