So you’ve got your airline tickets and you’re ready to embark on what is sure to be a great trip. Clutching your airline tickets in hand your happiness soon comes to a standstill–you don’t speak anything but English. Then you remembered your agent at the travel agency kind of giggled when you said you didn’t speak any other languages. Now you’re nervous. Sure, it can be quite intimidating traveling to a foreign land without any knowledge of the native language, but there are things you can do to overcome the language barrier. If you’re traveling to Spain and don’t know anything besides the few words you learned in your high school Spanish class, you’re not going to miraculously pick it up in time for your trip. But that doesn’t mean that you’re stranded. Here are a few simple tips to keep in mind while you’re on your European vacation.
1) When speaking, say things slowly and annunciate. Choose your easy words and pronounce each letter. Avoid using contractions. Speaking louder isn’t going to help someone understand you–they’re not deaf, they just don’t speak your language. So if you speak slowly and pronounce words fully, you’re more likely to be understood.
2) Don’t use slang. Slang is something that will baffle Europeans. Imagine learning English out of a textbook or classroom, and then coming to America only to find that everything you learned from your book is useless–slang is like a whole different language.
3) Keep your messages short and sweet. Instead of saying, “Excuse me sire, you would be so kind to take our photo?”, make the noun act as the entire sentence, i.e. “Photo?”.
4) Use words that are internationally understood. Telling someone you’re on vacation will probably elicit a blank stare. Holiday is used in Britan, and is more likely to get you a reaction. Toilet is also another universally understood word. Use words that are direct and simple, and you’re more likely to be understood.
5) Don’t be afraid of looking silly. It’s inevitable. Butchering the language is ok, at least your making an attempt to communicate in the native language, instead of arrogantly expecting everyone to speak English. (Europeans hate that.) Use body language if you must. Turn your quest for understanding into a game of charades.
6) Be a language detective–figure things out. Most European languages stem from or were influenced by Latin, so they all have a similar strain. Practice your understanding by studying the newspaper, brochures, even graffiti in bathrooms. It’s like a word puzzle. The more you play with it and experiment, the better you get.
7) Keep a small notebook and pen with you. If worse comes to worse, writing down the native words you’re trying to say and showing them to the person you’re trying to communicate with could help you tremendously.
8) Make educated guesses. Like a multiple choice test, choose the best option as you see it, and go with confidently.