We can’t speak every language in the world. As an intrepid world traveller, you’re going to find yourself somewhere were you do not speak the language and the people around you do not speak English. This can often put you off travelling to a place where you know you’re going to run into this problem. But never fear! I am here to help you with these handy hints to help you communicate in foreign climes.
Miming what you want is the near fail safe way of making yourself understood – but that all depends on your skills as a mime artist and your embarrassment threshold. I’ve always been the class clown and when overseas I’ve never been one to shy away from miming what I want. It still brings a smile to my face when I think of my friend and I miming squat toilets in a little village in China near Tiger Leaping Gorge to a group of old men. We were even shown the way, once they had stopped laughing at us.
A little tip for you, think outside the box when you are miming. Get a friend in on the act, as we had to do in China when we wanted massages. Or tell a story! For instance, you want bug spray! Mime a bug, with sound effects of course, then mime a spray bottle, with more sound effects! Try and better your travel buddy for the most outrageous mime!
Drawing what you want and showing it to the locals is another great way to make yourself understood. If you’re a half decent drawer that is. I have been completely bypassed in the artist stakes, despite being primarily right brained, so this little trick never helped me. But if you can draw a bowl of noodles, a hotel or a bus stop half well you’re well on your way to being understood! My stick drawings never helped much.
This is probably the most difficult way of communicating with others, but I think it is the most worthwhile and, in a way, respectful. Not that miming and drawing is disrespectful, it isn’t! But, by trying to speak the language of the country you’re in, you’re showing that you’re not just a blow-in looking for a great time – you’re there to experience the country and learn about it! So, break out the phrasebook or a language App and let her rip! Having a bit of a practice at home would be a good idea. Your dog won’t mind your bad pronunciation.
Get someone to speak for you! You may have a travel buddy who speaks the language and you could leave the speaking up to them. This is simple, easy, and fun. Your friend may be a bit of a practical joker and order you freshly barbecued crickets for dinner – but it’s all part of the experience eh!
You may be a cashed up traveller and you could hire a local guide to take you around the city for the day, showing you around and maybe teaching you a few phrases along the way. The way to go about doing this is to approach a local tour company, and asking them if they have any guides who could provide this service! I know that we did this in Paris when I worked there and it just made things so much easier for those travellers who were unable or unwilling, for whatever reason, to try the options above.
Whichever way you choose to go, know that there are no barriers to communicating with others while you’re overseas. Leave your embarrassment at home and you’ll find yourself with some memories that will make you smile and laugh long into the future.
Happy travelling friends.