Communicate When You Don't Speak the Language

It’s frustrating when you can’t communicate with foreigners or when you’re the foreigner who can’t understand the locals. Read on to learn how to overcome speaking a different language than the person you’re trying to communicate with. You can understand each other even if you don’t speak the same language as the other person.

I’ve been living in non-English speaking countries for a year and a half now. Communicating in a foreign language will be easier with these tips.

Just because you don’t speak the same language doesn’t mean you can’t communicate effectively. Anything you want to say can be said even if you don’t speak the language of the country you are visiting.

Speaking to Non-English Speakers

The most common first reaction to for communicating when you don’t speak the language is to raise your voice. The other person doesn’t speak English, they aren’t deaf.

Instead you should speak more slowly and clearly. Consider your word choice carefully when you don’t speak the same language. Don’t use words with multiple meanings or high level vocabulary.

Communicating in a foreign language takes patience and thoughtfulness.

Speaking to Someone in Another Language

Learn Key Phrases in Foreign Languages

As an English speaker you do have a distinct advantage as most places around the world cater to our language. But, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t take the opportunity to learn key phrases from the local language.

Before visiting a new country where we don’t speak the language, there are four key phrases we learn out of courtesy.

  • Hello / Good-bye
  • Thank You
  • Yes / No
  • Our Coffee Orders

Each country has key phrases that are unique to that region. In an Arabic speaking country, the term Yalla, meaning Let’s Go, is widely used. Whereas, in Japan you should know Sumimasen and Gomenasai which mean excuse me and I’m sorry respectively.

Every region will have similar commonly used phrases that are worth learning. Be inquisitive and attempt to use the foreign language whenever possible.

How to Overcome Speaking a Different Language

Universal concepts can be communicated through gestures and expressions. Don’t underestimate the power of pointing, smiling, and nodding.

Props are another useful tool in communicating when you don’t speak the same language. You don’t need to know the word for purse in order to hold up a purse and communicate wanting a different style or color.

Everything from temperature to size to directions can be communicated through gestures. Appearing open and friendly in foreign countries can create unique opportunities to connect with locals.

Communicating in a Foreign Language

Use Language Technology Aides

If you don’t speak the language there are two key pieces of technology that I highly recommend.

Google Translate is totally free to use. Prior to visiting a country where you’ll be communicating in a foreign language you should download the language of that country. Once you’ve downloaded the language you can use the app even if there is spotty service.

Key features of Google Translate include written, spoken, and photo translations. It’s frustrating when you can’t communicate with foreigners, but technology saves the day. The most useful part of the app is the ability to hold up the camera and live translate menus, signs, and other written communication.

Timekettle WT2 Edge is a highly sophisticated real time translation device. This device is extremely useful if you need to understand long periods of speaking in a foreign language. You can attend a foreign play, understand a speech, or be an active member in a foreign speaking office.

Technology is the answer for how to overcome speaking in a different language on a short term basis. Both Google Translate and the Timekettle WT2 Edge take practice to use in real time. Practice using these technologies before you need them in real life situations.

Just Learn the Language

If you’re going to be visiting a country where you don’t speak the language there is always the option of being proactive and learning it. Prior to your vacation or nomad stint you can start learning the language you can’t speak.

My favorite language learning tool is Duolingo. There is a free version and paid upgrade version of the language learning application. Because we travel so much, our family uses the paid family plan.

You can learn both the written and spoken elements of new languages.

Communicate When You Don't Speak the Same Language

If You Don’t Speak the Language

Never use your lack of language ability as an excuse not to travel. People all around the world are open and kind regardless of not being able to speak the same language.

There are nuances to communication in new countries. In Japan for instance, students learn English to pass a written test. Because of that there is a high level of comprehension in written text communication. Even if you don’t have your phone on your, you can write down in English what you want to say and they can most likely understand it. Japanese people lack confidence in their spoken English so they will likely write back to you in English to communicate their side of the conversation.

Pride can get in the way of cross language communication if you let it. Be humble in your interactions. Enjoy your travels and soak up the beauty from all around this amazing globe. I can’t wait to hear about your travel experiences.

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