Don’t be put off travelling to different countries where you don’t speak the language. The language barrier doesn’t seem to bother English speakers as much as it does my own dear Spanish friends and colleagues, who seem to be terrified to go anywhere where they don’t speak Spanish. I think that’s why they are always quick to accompany me (the English speaker) when I suggest travelling to non-Spanish speaking countries.
With a little preparation and some handy technology, you have an excellent chance of getting on just fine wherever you choose to go. Instead of speaking your own language slowly or loudly to locals (boorish and rude), why not buy yourself a good dictionary (or find an online course, there are hundreds) and at least learn how to say the basics, such as ‘Good morning”, “please” and “thank you”? Of course, carry your phrase book (paper or electronic) at all times.
Parlez-vous anglais? ¿Hablas inglés? So many people learn foreign languages these days that there’s a good chance that the person you speak to will have a smattering of English and will be able to help you on your way. Learn how to say “Do you speak English?” in the language of your destination.
Another piece of kit that will improve your sense of security is a good map, town plan or even a GPS (traveller’s tip: the GPS doesn’t work in the Medina in Fez). A friend of mine always writes his address on a piece of paper and pins it inside his jacket in case he gets lost!
Then there’s non-verbal communication, which accounts for around 80% of what we ‘say’. Tune in to other people’s body language and you may be surprised how much you can understand. There are exceptions however. In India, people shake their heads when they mean “yes” and never say “no” anyway so as not to offend you… very confusing.
It is also very important to observe local customs. Watch what other people are doing and follow suit. Smile often and speak in a polite tone of voice. Being kind and respectful are easy ways of making your stay a more enjoyable one.
Last, but not least, when possible, find a translator to help you during your stay! If you’re going somewhere exotic, I might be available…