Language Barriers When Traveling

Tuesday, August 26, 2014 | Stamp in My Passport| , , , , |

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Unfortunately, the assumption that Americans only speak English and expect everyone else to do the same sort of applied in my case when I studied abroad. I knew zero phrases of French before I stepped on the plane and was armed with my Rick Steves' phrase book that I was hoping would help me communicate just enough until my French lessons began. 

If you are visiting an area that speaks another language and are a picky eater, it is important to learn the names of foods that you like and don't like. Samantha and Emily hated fish with a passion. They made up a little reminder "poission = poison" so they knew to avoid it on menus.

You'll also find yourself doing a lot of pointing and gesturing. Because somehow these generic sign language moves transcend language and culture. Most of the time.

Also, in France, they start counting with their thumb on their fingers. So let's say you pass by a bakery (there is literally one on every corner so take your pick) and you want two almond croissants. You step up to the counter, butcher "deux croissant amande" so for good measure you hold up your second and third finger to emphasize that you want two. Well, it's your lucky day because you will most likely be given three (you should have held up your thumb and second finger...does that make sense?) Anyways, in this instance having three almond croissants instead of two is a great thing in my opinion.

Finally, while you may have a grand idea of visiting every country in Europe at one time, but be prepared for a language overload. After accidentally speaking French in Italy, and Italian in Switzerland, it might be easiest to try your hand at English and hope for the best.

We truly live in a global society. Whether you're travelling for fun, or working in a global company or organization, interacting with others who speak a different language is inevitable. Don't let a language barrier prohibit your information from reaching people across the world. Go a step beyond Google translate and instead opt for a translation service, such as Smartling, run by humans and not computers.

Have you had any language mishaps either while traveling or at work? How did you handle them?


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Meet Jessa (formally of Life of a Sports Wife). Similar to me, she spent some time in Arkansas. There is something about everyone around you shouting "Woo Pig Souie" that automatically gives you something in common. More than our shared time living in The Natural State, we are also baseball fans (her husband works for the minor league team) and I suppose I will forgive her for wearing Rangers attire. Jessa is also a runner and is constantly sharing tips for you to become a runner too. It's yet to work for me, but I always love the motivation! New to her corner of the internet? Get a crash course here


Darci Miller said...

Ha, the great thing about Switzerland is that you could speak French, Italian or German and have a chance of speaking the correct language! :P My friend and I went to Lausanne and had a bit of a language problem -- neither of us spoke French, which is the local language there, and it's non-touristy enough where we had a waitress one night that didn't speak a word of English. She had to get someone else to come translate for us, lol. And it's always mildly concerning when you're not sure if you're on the right train platform in Germany and nobody around you can understand what you're asking them. But luckily we made it to our next stops without a problem!

Kasi Zlochevski said...

I found that most people know English no matter where you go. In France and Austria I had to resort to showing waiters the menu and pointing at what I wanted! But it wasn't bad :)

Aubrey said...

I was a French major and speak pretty well, but that doesn't mean I don't run into language barriers in that language.

Three situations stand out in my memory:
1) When I asked for the recipe instead of the bill at a restaurant (la recette) thinking "receipt" in my mind.
2) When I couldn't remember the word for jam and thought of the English word preserves, and asked for a condom (un preservatif) by accident.
3) When I got really sick during my semester abroad, but didn't know the words for symptoms of certain things written on my prescription bottles, and I stuck a tablet into my mouth that I didn't realize was effervescent. FOAM EVERYWHERE.

Jess said...

I was absolutely petrified of getting sick and having to go to a pharmacy! That is one place where you want everything to be completely understood. And I totally get what you mean by "knowing" French, but still not being able to fully communicate. There are so many different accents, I was amazed. Is that what people think when they come to America?

Jess said...

I am so thankful that that is the case! And yes, I did A LOT of pointing :)

Jess said...

That's crazy! Glad it all worked out in the end :) And you have fun stories to share from it.

Camila said...

I'm very happy I can converse in multiple languages and that of those languages, I can go pretty much everywhere - Asia scares me a little bit, because I've never really been to a country where I understood nothing! I think it's smart to learn essential words - I never thought of learning food name for restaurants and such!

Becca Nelson said...

I'm currently living in Guatemala, and I speak "solo un poquito de espaƱol". It's challenging, because this is not a country where people generally know English! The Google translate app, LiveMocha, and my phrasebook have been my best friends. And when in doubt, wild gesturing helps too!