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Communication is in general the key in all relationships. During traveling it is not as easy all the time. Sometimes you are in places in which you don’t speak the local language and the locals are not speaking any English as well. So how do you communicate while traveling? 

Where is it usually an issue?

The biggest issues are usually in remote places, especially in non touristic countries. Also problematic are countries in general, which are surrounded by countries speaking the same language. The best example is South America, Central America and also Central Asia and post-Soviet countries.
It also makes sense why it is the case, in those regions English is just not important, even when you travel, but only inside these regions, you never need English.

Also it’s more problematic with older generations who were not so exposed to the world.

What tools can you use?

  1. Speak simple and only necessary words like “pizza, city names, names of attraction”. Even when they don’t speak any English, it could work to be understood.
  2. Try to talk with “hands and feets”, with just gestures and stuff like that, you can make them understand you as well.
  3. Translator, probably the easiest way of getting by is translating what you want to say to the other. This is of course the best, just in some regions in the world you should try to avoid having the phone visible on the streets. Also learning necessary words in the language you are in could help. For example when you want to do hitchhiking, it is important to say “hitchhiking, no money, highway and here”, and depending on what you want to do, there are specific words.
  4. Have a local person with you, of course this is something which is not always possible, but that would be the non plus ultra! 

How to avoid it in general?

The best way to avoid it is not to travel to these types of countries, of course when you are reading this it is not an option. Besides learning the language the only way of avoiding it is trying your luck with people in their 20’s or maybe also other travelers, to not be completely alone.
Also one thing I found quite helpful is smiling, it sound weird, but it actually helps a lot. Saying thank you with gestures, even when they were not helpful, to get out of the situation way better. Also being nice is helping to be avoid issues in general and people might be more willing to help you as much as they can. 

Having a local sim-card is in general a good thing as well which can avoid many issues. 

Where is it not an issue at all?

  1. It is not an issue at all in old colonies from the UK, these countries tend to have many English speakers. 
  2. Countries which have a minority language like Scandinavia for example. They need to speak some English, because their language isn’t doing them much favor in life when wanting to do something outside of their country too.
  3. Tourist countries, when a country is earning money with tourism, they are kind of forced to learn English.
  4. Obviously in countries where English is the mother language for most people.

Why can communication during traveling fail?

The biggest reason why communication can still fail, even when you follow all steps from before is: they just don’t want to communicate with you in English. This has been happening for quite some time, but it’s not your fault I believe. In Turkey I had it quite often, the people while hitchhiking didn’t speak English most of the time. Some people were willing to speak with me and tried their best to work this out, same for me. There were people who were just getting louder and more aggressive, with the voice, in Turkish and with them it was kind of useless to try it, but it was just their way to deal with it and that was fine as well, just not helpful.

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Written by

Nico Koch

I am Nico Koch from Hamburg in Germany and happy that you are interested in seeing the world through my eyes and want to join me on my journey.