How do you overcome Language barriers when traveling abroad?
Back in time, language barriers among populations of different origins were probably solved through body language most of the time.
Gesture, facial expressions, miming were all usual and fundamental skills, considered with equal importance to verbal language.
While Italians are considered Olympic champions of acrobatic gestures, this technique is absolutely ineffective and unwise for any conversation that goes beyond the “downstairs right”.
When I was traveling through Morocco with my sister, who can’t speak a word of English and only relies on her drawing and miming skills when asking for directions, I found out that this gesture is also different in meaning from one language to another, and a lot of moves that we ingenuously did to intensify the conversation, turned out to be even more confusing.
Misunderstandings of this kind are not too dangerous after all, they just end up in a good laugh.
This extract of “Dances with Wolves” conveys the idea of my sister communicating abroad.
BOOKING ONLY ORGANISED TOURS WITH PROFESSIONALS
In the traditional tourism industry, every respectable travel package involves the work of several professional translators.
Tour leader. He goes with tourists from the country of origin to the destination and oversees the whole trip in all general aspects. Basically, he is the one who has to answer thousands of silly questions all day and every single day of the journey. He has to speak the tourists’ language and the destination language or at least the Local Correspondent language.
Tourist Guide. He is the destination expert, he takes the tourists (lead by the tour leader) to museums, archaeological areas, or any other tourist attraction. He answers only questions related to history, culture and art. He is bi-lingual too.
“Local correspondent” can be an inbound tourist agency supplier of services and excursions or an employee of the tour operator who lives inside the holiday village and plays the role of assistant for its customers. The services offered by the local correspondent generally include tour guides , transfers to / from airport – hotel , excursions and any complimentary services . They always speak the local language and the language of the tourists at a decent level, or at least the same language as the tour leader.
This complex structure is one of the reasons why, of course, an organised tour package will end up costing double the price of a “Do it yourself” one.
LEARNING A LANGUAGE FROM SCRATCH
If this is your usual way of trying to overcome language barriers, you deserve all my admiration. Learning a new language is one of the most interesting things I’ve ever done. I studied 7 different languages in my whole life (other than my native language) and at the end of the day, I completely forgot Arabic, Russian and German. I can barely express myself in Spanish, French and English and I am still wondering about some Italian figure of speech! Learning a language is an endless process.
Every time you give up on your usual verbal code of communication, you feel like your voice, your tongue and part of your brain suddenly freeze and crash on the floor into thousands of meaningless nonsense. You freak out and try to pick up words as fast as you can because people are waiting for you with a hopeful face, but emotions feed confusion and you just opt for another beer.
Personally, I always force myself to learn at least a few words before heading somewhere far. When locals hear you mumbling something that sounds familiar to them, they are more likely to help you out, because you are showing them respect, you are making the effort, since, don’t forget, it is you visiting their place.
HIRING PROFESSIONAL INTERPRETERS
Professional Interpreters is definitely the most effective way of overcoming language barriers. Interpeters study the rules and cultures related to a language, they know how to behave, they are able to mediate between two different ways of life, they are aware of circumstances, they can tell you what to say, how to say it, and when it’s time to shut up.
Simultaneous Interpreters then, they literally have powers. I read once that they practice through an exercise called “ shadowing”, meaning that they have to repeat a sentence exactly at the same time that this sentence has been spoken. Their brain has to process any information that comes in into a language and let it out in another language with no time. We are not impressed then if their rates are around 1.000$ an hour.
USING TRANSLATING APPS.
There we go. Google translate is our bread and butter and we will never disagree with its greatness. I use it every day to reply to email, to write my blog, to translate signs on the streets when traveling, sometimes to talk to the taxi driver. It is a very useful tool without a doubt, but still you need a basic knowledge of the language you’re translating into to guess when the translation make sense. You need to well know grammar to understand when a literal translation is acceptable or not.
Plus, when traveling, you are in the real world, you are immersed in noise, gazes, rush, traffic, fear, happiness, expectations, all those elements don’t always give you the chance to set up your phone and point it at the mouth of whoever is in front of you.
There is a huge gap in real life situations where only another human being can save your day. Think about dealing with a foreign bureaucracy (you want to contest a parking fine), feeling unsafe (you don’t feel like going alone for the camel ride in the desert with people you don’t understand), needing a doctor (it’s not an emergency so you don’t want to phone your insurance, supposing you’ve got one), or maybe you just want to share a good laugh comparing your culture to a completely different one, with somebody who knows both well. ProNatives connects tourists to locals matching them by the language spoken. Our Natives are interpreters, tourist guides, hospitality professionals, cultural mediators, but not only that. They are also casual people, language students, bi-lingual doctors, expats, second generation migrants. The whole community is also divided by categories of expertise, so the tourist can find the native with the right background for his needs.
They help you out, you leave a tip. They practice language, you enjoy your trip.
We are people helping people!