“Speak the way you eat”- What you need to know about language barriers

Hello, hola, salut, bula, aloha…How do you usually greet someone in your language? In Italian, my first language, we say ‘ciao’. However, I’ve surprisingly found that people from diverse
countries, like Brazilians and some Spanish speakers, use the word ‘ciao’ as well when it comes to saying ‘hello’ or ‘see you later’. It’s incredible, isn’t it?

Photo by Dan Gold on Unsplash

We all know that the English language is the most spoken in the world: as a matter of fact, the tourism industry has enhanced the ‘popularity’ of this language in the last decade more than ever, so even if you lack English skills, knowing at least world-famous-words such as taxi, hotel, and restaurant, is vital when you’re overseas.

But what if one day you travel to a remote area where nobody speaks English? What if there’s no connection for the Internet and maybe your phone’s battery is over. Have you ever experienced that situation? Where you act like a clumsy mimic, speaking like a robot in order to get some information from a (local) unlucky person. I have!

I can guarantee you guys that there are still places on Earth where locals only speak their national language, sometimes only dialects.

Monkey See Monkey Do

Usually, native English speakers don’t know a second language and most are not willing to learn a new one so they get surprised if someone doesn’t understand them. Thus, here are some tips I’d like to share with you my friends in order to lessen language barriers before you travel overseas:

  1. Don’t shout! Stay calm. You can’t always expect the person in front of you speaks the same language. Raising your voice like a tenor doesn’t mean your listener will understand!
  2. Use plain language. I know, it looks like you act as a 3-years-old baby but trust me, if you talk slowly and clearly instead of fast and forcefully, there are higher chances of success.
  3. Don’t use slang. “Hey mate, can I bum a fag?” The first time I was told this poem from a coworker in Perth, I thought I was in trouble but actually, it’s a friendly way to ask for a cigarette.
Butt out!! Photo by Jakob Owens on Unsplash

Remember: although slang seems to ease a conversation, they can actually complicate in many circumstances, especially when you travel abroad.

-Be aware of your body language. Hand gestures and facial expressions vary from country to country and have different meanings. In my experience, our famous Italian gesticulate can be more entertaining than productive, then people eventually laugh. So remember these as (‘lifeline’) advice when you encounter people who don’t speak your language and or when you seek for vital information.

On the other hand, if you already know that the local people of a specific place you’re traveling to only speak their national language or a certain dialect, you will be better off to follow these instructions to make your life easier:

  1. Do your homework! Don’t you think it would be a good idea learning at least a few phrases? To greet someone. To thank someone. Or maybe to date someone. haha.
  2. Be smart with your smartphone. Take a screenshot of the address you need to go or save a photo of the spot you want to see, it’ll be easier for you and your taxi driver! And of course, navigate on the Internet for downloading the proper translator’s app.
  3. Be crafty as well. Bring with you a portable phone charger, so you don’t have to beg inside bars and restaurants for a powerpoint. You don’t find plugs everywhere and some people are not always willing to help.

Well, these are my tips for you guys before your next adventure to prevent language barriers. I hope I’ve given some useful information and entertained at the same time. Sign up to our Newsletter to be notified for my next post and another interesting topic.

Thank you.
Alessandro Mormile

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