I'm Sorry...What Are You Saying?

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“If you talk to a man in a language he understands, that goes to his head. If you talk to him in his language, which goes to his heart.”
– Nelson Mandela

Language Barriers
If you cannot understand what someone wants or needs, how do you give him or her what he or she are asking for? With language barriers, giving someone what they want becomes an issue. You do not want to assume someone wants an apple when honestly he or she is looking for a ball.

Not speaking the native language of your host country can become very frustrating because what may take a matter of seconds to relay at home or with someone who speaks, your language can end up taking an hour. It may even begin to look like you have learned sign language with all of the gestures you use to reduce words into motions just to gain some type of shared understanding.  The truth is that when there is a language barrier so much can be lost in translation, especially when words are difficult to translate.

Unfortunately, having a personal interpreter is not an option for most of us, but if it is, you are in heaven and ready to take on the world.  For organic travelers without access to an interpreter, we have to rely on nifty little translation books. If we are young and hip, then an application on our smartphone or tablet might just do.  Otherwise, we rely on hand gestures, grunts, or loud speech to express ourselves even if it is inappropriate.

The bottom line is that when traveling in a foreign country it is exasperating trying to communicate when there is no common language between you and the other person. Yet people do it every day. Language is our greatest mediator and gives us an insight to what someone is feeling or going through. Without it, one must trust in assumptions, which can lead to disaster if incorrect.

Here are some ways to help you deal with language barriers:
Q  Be patient.
Q  One of the best ways to deal with a language barrier is actually trying to learn the language.
Q  Try speaking very clearly and slowly.
Q  Avoid idioms.
Q  Use all available tools:  a child that is bi-lingual, your smart phone, a travel guide, language books, picture dictionaries. Etc.
Q  Learn the basics, especially the customs so you do not offend someone.
Q  Ask for clarification when possible.
Q  Use gestures wisely, it is easy to offend someone, because NOT ALL gestures are universal.

Q  In many cases, making an attempt at the local language is a sign of compassion and well received, so it is worth a try.   If you are wrong, in most cases you will be corrected. 


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