How to Communicate in a Foreign Country When You Don't Speak the Language

What would you do if your boss told you that she had suddenly decided to send you to a country whose language you don't speak at all? Barring the possibility of taking a crash-language course (which you probably won't have time to do), you can follow several steps to help out. Armed with the following essential tips, you'll be able to get over the hurdle when you need to communicate in a foreign country and you don't speak the language.

Steps

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    Invest in a good dictionary and phrase book so you can communicate even if it is at the most basic level. These two simple tools can prove invaluable and will aid you considerably when you go to a foreign country where you don't speak the language.
    • Carry your phrase book with you wherever you go. This isn't a guarantee that you'll understand what others are saying, but it will help you in some cases to communicate the basics when you order a meal or need directions.
    • Try to begin conversations with a phrase in the language of the country you are visiting. Something as simple as "hello," "bonjour" or "Buenos Dias" can go a very long way.
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    Learn how to ask whether a person speaks your language. Many people in other countries speak more than one language, and they may know yours.
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    Invest in a good map. If you're going to be in a metropolitan area where you will need to either walk or take public transportation, you need to know where you're going. If you don't speak the language, you can use the map to get the lay of the land so you can find your way to your destination.
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    Tune into other people's body language and facial expressions. Communications experts say that about 80 percent of communication is non-verbal. Consequently, you can probably understand more than you think just by being observant.
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    Observe the customs of the native people. It's a good rule of thumb to observe how others are behaving and follow suit. This doesn't mean you should be careless about your actions. It simply means you should watch and emulate the mannerisms of others.

Tips

  • Memorize a few key phrases to help you communicate so you can get through the airport and find a taxi when you arrive. This will reduce the stress of your first attempts at communicating in a language you're not familiar with.
  • Smile often and speak politely. It is important to remember that you are at a disadvantage when you don't speak a language, so being polite and kind are key ways to ensure you have a better stay in the country you are visiting.
  • When possible, find a translator willing to accompany you during your stay.

Article Info

Categories: World Languages