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How to Travel When You Don't Speak the Language

If you are traveling somewhere that doesn't speak your native language, it can be difficult to communicate your basic needs to local residents. If English is your first language, you will find many countries have good accommodations. Many Spanish speaking countries in North and South America will have English translations and locals with basic English skills. Other countries (South Korea is an example) speak almost no English. Below are some tips to navigate your travel.

  1. Learn some basic phrases in the destination language

When you are planning to travel somewhere that doesn't speak English, learning some basic vocabulary can help immensely. It is also considered a sign of respect in many areas when you are a tourist. Here are some good items to start with:

  • Hello

  • Goodbye

  • Thank you

  • Yes

  • No

  • Bathroom

  • Airport

  • Hotel

There are plenty of resources online that can help you quickly learn these. It will surprise you how much easier communication will be with a basic vocabulary.


2. Find a good translation app and have it ready

Holding a conversation with someone who speaks a different language has become much easier with the advancement of translation technology. You can now speak into your phone and it will repeat the translation instantly. We highly recommend Google Translate, which is free.

Tips for using Google Translate:

  1. Download the language you need while on WiFi. This will allow you to translate without service and save you data charges.

  2. Don't forget your camera. You can take pictures of text, and it will translate for you.

  3. Use real-time translation. You can speak into the app, and a voice will translate it in the correct language. This helps ensure the correct pronunciation and accent.


3. Be patient

While you attempt to have a conversation with someone who speaks a different language, you will hope they are patient with you. This goes both ways. You need to do your best to be respectful of the other person in the conversation. A few things to remember:

  1. Even if you say the right words, you might be pronouncing them wrong. This will make it challenging to understand for a native speaker.

  2. Translation apps aren't perfect. You might encounter a situation where the wrong translation is generated. Be patient and try again.

  3. Not everyone will be as patient with you. If you are waiting in line to buy tickets somewhere, look for someone already helping someone who speaks your language.


We hope these tips give you a start in navigating travel to other countries with different languages. The most important thing to remember is to enjoy the adventure! One of the best parts of travel is getting out of your comfort zone and experiencing another culture.

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