Surviving the Language Barrier

For someone that is planning a round the world trip that will involve traveling through several different countries (and even many continents), here are some tips that will help you to get by as you try to make yourself understood around the world…

For most countries, if you plan to stick to popular tourist areas, English will be well spoken in most places. However, you’ll surely find yourself in areas where things aren’t so simple as soon as you get off that ‘tourist trail’. For instance, in certain countries, such as China and Russia, unless you are traveling through the major cities, it will help to have a small language guidebook especially if you plan to spend more than a week or two. Being able to communicate with others will only add to your travel experience as well as you’re bound to meet locals on trains and such that will want to speak with you.

For most travel through Western Europe, this won’t be an issue as almost everyone will speak English but many parts of the world present a challenge. Some of the better guidebooks out there are the ones offered by Lonely Planet. They are small, easy to navigate by topic and offer the most useful and relevant phrases and expressions you will need. And as you travel out of the country, you can always try to swap guidebooks with other travelers. I started out my travels in Spain and took one of these guides with me and later swapped it with another traveler on my departure.

Another option, is the “Point It Dictionary“. This little book is filled with over 1300 pictures that you can use effectively all across the world. It has everything from specific foods and colors to transportation and bed types. It is extremely small and compact and takes up very little room in your pack and you can also use the maps in the back of the book to show people exactly where you’re from in which they can do the same. I did meet some others travelers along the way that also owned the book but for every one that I met that didn’t have one, they said they’d wished they’d knew about it.

And then of course, as a last resort, you’ll just have to get good at acting out everything or drawing pictures! It provides great entertainment for the locals!

For another tip, if you need to find someone that speaks English, target the younger folks in most countries. This worked well for me in many countries as English is becoming a standard 2nd language in many primary and secondary schools. You’d be surprised to learn that a 5 year old can speak more English than a 35 year old with a 3 piece suit on.

For any comments, questions or related experiences, feel free to drop me a line below!