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How to Overcome Language Barriers in Any Country

Living in a village in Nepal—in the middle of the tourism off-season, might I add—taught me a thing or two about surviving in a country where you don’t speak the language. With a little help from your smartphone and a healthy dose of humility, it is easy to enjoy yourself regardless of your lingual abilities. Here are five tips I picked up from personal experience.

Your Phone is Your Friend

Translator apps are an excellent alternative to flipping through a phrase book. They also prove especially useful when the language uses an entirely different alphabet, like Greek.

My favorite app is Jibbigo, which is available for iPad, iPhone, and Android. It allows you to speak or type the word or phrase you want translated, and with just a few taps, you will have both a written and oral translation. The play button is great for avoiding awkward mispronunciations, and best of all, the app functions without an internet connection. Google Translate also works very well. All you have to do is point your phone at whatever you want translated, and boom—it shows up on your phone. And again, you don’t need an internet connection.

Related: 8 English Words You Shouldn’t Use Abroad

Don’t Assume That People Speak English

I have heard countless people express their annoyance, and even feelings of offense, over this faux pas. Next to hello, thank you and please, “Do you speak English?” ranks very high in basic survival language. Wherever you are going learn how to say it. Even if you butcher it, people will appreciate the consideration. Learning the very basics of a language will go a long way.

Ask the Concierge for Help

Most people working in the hotel industry speak some English, so don’t be afraid to get some feedback on your pronunciation. Also, use them as a resource, because you know they are used to getting asked for directions—or, you know, for the best place to eat.

Be an adventurous eater

I have come to view an untranslated menu as the chance to experience food I might not normally choose. It helps to point to the menu and then shrug, which conveys that you simply don’t know what to get.

Through gesticulation and fragmented speech, I have managed to get across the message that I would like the waiter to choose what he or she enjoys the most—or what is best this time of year.

Related: How to Rescue Yourself from 10 Sticky Travel Situations

Laugh and Smile … a Lot

Luckily, this body language is universal. An easygoing demeanor makes it much easier to make it through a conversation consisting mainly of gestures and miming. Brush up on your charades!

And hey, if you really can’t stand the language barrier, there are always language classes. Rosetta Stone is a good start, and there are countless language-learning apps like DuoLingo that will help you get familiar with the basics. And if those don’t work, try signing up for a class at your local university. You may even meet someone who will vow to learn the language with you, too. You never know!

—Marybeth Bond

This article was originally published by Yahoo! Travel under the headline Tu Es WHAT? How to Overcome Language Barriers in Any Country. It is reprinted here with permission.

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