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John V Cain, Vagabond - VINJABONDASK is a series of posts answering questions asked by readers about vagabonding. Contact me to ask your own or view all ASK posts.

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QUESTION:

I’m in my first week of backpacking around the world. I intentionally chose England as my first destination so I can ease into the inevitable communication difficulties of being a foreigner.

So how do you handle the language barriers of you own vagabonding way?

Reggie A.
New York City, USA

As travelers and explorers of the world, I feel as if overcoming language barriers is just another intriguing albeit sometimes difficult thing to experience.

Like the thrill of culture shock, it seems like a negative part of travel, but it can actually be an exciting learning experience if you let it. That’s how I “handle” language barriers, as a good and strengthening exercise.

A positive attitude and perception of a problem can go a long way particularly with intercultural communication.

But there is no quick tip or secret method of breaking the language barrier. Even linguists will have difficulties understanding a new language out in the real world.

Language Barriers ///

So unless you’re a prodigy, don’t try to figure out the technical structure of the nation’s language, expecting to get half fluent by reading an instructional on it during the flight to that country. It’s a waste of time and you won’t get anything practical out of it.

Alternately for digital nomads and expats planning on staying in a country for professional matters, language fundamentals may be necessary.

Focus on key words and phrases (and their pronunciation) that you know you’ll need and use. For example, the 3 most important, useful and most commonly used are; “Thank you”, “Hello” and “Goodbye”.

That trifecta is the most generic of words which also makes them extremely valuable to the foreigner.

An obvious tourist properly greeting a local for business or social, in my experience, almost always breaks the ice. Which is a great start on breaking that language barrier even if you don’t know any more words.

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Frustration can’t always be helped but never show anger to the person you’re trying to communicate with.

It’s not their fault they don’t speak your language or you don’t speak theirs while you’re in their country.




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3 COMMENTS ///

  1. Lori Zabel

    The last sentence is really well said and completely agree and would also like to add, you should never start yelling in English or talk slower as if that helps.

    I hate when disrespectful travelers do that.


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