Parkour Over That Language Barrier

If you’ve ever traveled overseas, then you know the difficulties of trying to order food or find your destination when you don’t know how to speak the language. One of the most intimidating things about traveling is the language barrier, because it can limit so much of your experience when you’re in that mental space of “I don’t understand anything.”

But let me tell you this: there are ALWAYS ways to communicate, despite the language barrier!

And yes, there are plenty of apps and websites out there for translating, but what about when you need to communicate and you don’t have data or even a phone? Don’t worry! There are still ways to get what you need, sans technology.

During my trips to Japan, I learned the importance of knowing common words and phrases and then combining those phrases with simple gestures to communicate what I needed/wanted. Maybe I didn’t know how to say, “I would like a latte with one pump of vanilla, and do you have soy milk?” BUT I learned the word for “coffee”, “one”, and “please” — and those three words were really all that I needed. At other places where I didn’t know the names for things, I could simply point to what I wanted and say the word for “this” or “that” to place my order.

Those two words — “this” and “that” — were lifesavers in so many situations!

Another handy dandy phrase that I learned to say in Japanese was “Sorry, I don’t know,” which worked like a pass card when the barista tried to ask me other things. When this happened, they always understood that I didn’t speak the language and continued on with ringing up my purchase.

So, my advice to all you future travelers is to learn basic words and phrases that apply in a wide variety of situations. Additionally, learn priority words that are used most often in your destination. For example, it was helpful for me to know the word for “rice” and “green tea” because those two items were typically being served at meals.

Another major component of the way we communicate is through physical motions and body language, which can be understood no matter what language we speak. This means that many times, simply pointing to things or waving your hand to say, “No thank you,” is enough to get by. Even a smile or a nod can be all that you need!

(You will also discover that most people are happy to go with the flow and help you out even when you don’t understand each other. It’s beautiful and magical!)

With minimal prep (and plenty of confidence), you can easily figure out how to get around and get what you need — even when you can’t speak fluently or read the language. That “language barrier” is really not a barrier at all. PARKOUR! (Cue mental image of you back-flipping over a wall like a ninja.)

So don’t be afraid to get out and explore! It is easier than you think, and being confident in knowing that you aren’t limited by language will open so many doors during your travels.