How to survive abroad without knowing the local language

Not knowing the local language when you are in an alien country could really put you in a fix. To survive abroad without knowing the local language could be a key factor deciding on the success of the purpose of your trip. Especially in countries like China, France, Ukraine and Botswana no one could either speak or understand a single word of English.

The world might seem to fall apart without getting the simplest things daily life achieved with language barrier standing like the wall of Gibraltar. It is quite natural that in a foreign language country people won’t respond to your language which alien to them.

Vital tips to survive abroad without knowing the local language: 

However, there is nothing to despair. You do not need to know thoroughly the language of a country you desire to visit. Here are a few important pieces of advice to be followed while in a foreign country so as not to confront any issues for not knowing the local language:

1.     Do you know that gestures are more powerful than the words?  gestures are more powerful than the words

Sometimes your gestures convey more information about what you actually want rather than fumbling with words.  But you must be conversant with the meaning of specific gesture represents in a country. Pointing your fingers could be a very friendly sign in a country. It could represent slight in some other country!

2.     Numbers speak more than words: Numbers speak more than words

Mathematical language is almost the same in all the countries. It is not just two and two makes four principal that we are talking here. You need to go beyond that. The Hindu – Arabic number system is applicable universally and it is darn simple to express your needs in terms of numbers than carry a lexicon from a foreign language tutorial.

Suppose if you need 5 numbers of watches from a shop simply put forward 5 fingers instead of speaking the word ‘ five’. Here number and gesture combine to an effective means of expression. This simple act of common sense will help you in many situations enabling you to survive abroad without knowing the local language. 

3.     Apply your GPS (downloading offline maps): GPS

In a foreign country, you may find problems with street directions, landmarks and could get confused with your own bearings because you cannot figure out the signs. Things get aggravated when you are not familiar with the language. But GPS works even in a foreign language country. You need to have the internet access to get it. Google maps make your travel easier.

4.     Language translators could save your soul: Google translator app

To survive abroad without knowing the local language is not that difficult these days, thanks to the number of language translator apps available. Google translator app can come to your rescue anytime anywhere. You need to have internet access for this. They may not deliver exact word to word meaning for an alien language. But they are workable especially when you are travelling.

5.     Follow the local etiquette: Follow the local etiquette

When you are in a foreign country and you do not know the native tongue, a show of courtesy could come to great help. Simple words like ‘ I am sorry’, ‘ excuse me ‘ is a show of politeness that everyone likes. These are considered as survival phrases and people would be good enough to come forward and figure out the difficulty you are in even if a language barrier exists.

6.     Keep smiling: Keep smiling

Always wear a smile. This is one of the simple tips to survive abroad without knowing the local language. It costs nothing and yet invites good and helpful gestures from foreigners. But you need to know whether smiling at strangers is an offense in that country. In Russia it is.

7.     Ten basic words can save your day: 

words can save your day

There are survival phrases that are universally accepted. People understand these words even if they do not speak your language. Hello, thank you, please and bye are some of the words people appreciate all over the world and help you with your language difficulty in a foreign land.

8.     Carry a notepad:

Carry a notepadWhen you don’t know the native language and your gestures and finger-pointing isn’t getting you far breaking the ice, a Pictionary is recommended. Carry a notepad, draw pictures of items you are looking for. Sketches often convey meaning instantly when your words fail to get a solution for hours trying to make the world understand.

9.     For accurate information approach the right places:

While struggling to survive abroad without knowing the local language, we make a big mistake of asking help from wrong people. For getting directions it is logical to approach a hotel’s help desk for guidance. 

10.  Carry your hotel business card:

cab travelYour hotel’s business card would be a reasonable guide helping you to survive abroad without learning the local language. The card conveys the information regarding its address which would help you and the cab driver to reach your hotel without any hassle.

11.  Carry a paper map in local language:

Carry a paper mapGet a map in local language from the hotel’s front desk. Mark the places where you want to go. These are lucid guidelines enabling you to find your destination. These handy tools make the language barrier surmountable.

12.  Find people eager to brush up their skills in English:

skills in EnglishYou will find aspiring English language enthusiasts in university campuses and in bookstalls in a country where the local language is an issue. Interaction with the English speaking crowd can bring up vital information about directions and places.

13.  The lower the better:

The lower the better

You need not speak loud to make a person understand what you are trying to convey. If he is not familiar with your language, the volume of your voice won’t help either. Instead lower your voice and think how to express your requirements in simple and easily accessible words.

14.   Repeat your query:

One way to survive abroad without learning the local language is to repeat your questions. Keep doing it until you get full clarification and there is no question of getting ashamed of it. However, you need to be sure you are clear about what you ask for. Take care that you don’t irritate the person with your repetitions.

Your not knowing the local language of the country you are in should not discourage you from exploring. Go ahead and give it a try; it will be a wonderful experience trying to articulate in an unfamiliar language scenario. It will be more exciting than challenging. Cheers!

Dr Prem Jagyasi (c)

Dr Prem is an award winning strategic leader, renowned author, publisher and highly acclaimed global speaker. Aside from publishing a bevy of life improvement guides, Dr Prem runs a network of 50 niche websites that attracts millions of readers across the globe. Thus far, Dr Prem has traveled to more than 40 countries, addressed numerous international conferences and offered his expert training and consultancy services to more than 150 international organizations. He also owns and leads a web services and technology business, supervised and managed by his eminent team. Dr Prem further takes great delight in travel photography.

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