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7 Tips for Traveling Where You Don’t Know the Local Language


Some travelers, having struggled through high school language classes, may limit themselves to destinations where English is the primary language—but that’s an unnecessary measure. With just a few small tricks, travelers that are wary of visiting places where they are unfamiliar with the local language can have a good experience. Here are just a few of the pointers from the seasoned travelers in our forums as they offer advice and encouragement.

1. Bring along a small cheat sheet

“I like to make an index card (or write the list inside the cover of my dictionary or guidebook) of words I’m likely to see on signs, especially those that have have opposites, such as:

in, out
up, down
exit, enter
push, pull
wait, go”
(– advice from kayd)

2. Go back to school

“Sign up for a class at your local community college. I took three quarters of Italian at mine a few years ago and learned so much. Then you can continue with tapes. But it really helps to understand how all the grammar works and how to compose sentences.” — advice from Grassshopper

3. Pave your way with a smile

“Remember that a smile is well understood in either language. Many (especially younger generations) do speak English and are more than happy to attempt English if you’re friendly and attempt at least please and thank you in German [or any other local language].” — advice from Iowa_Redhead

4. Master basic phrases

“I always make it a point to learn between 50-100 words in the language of the country I am traveling to. Most important are key phrases like ‘Where is the…,’ ‘Please,’ ‘Thank you,’ ‘I’m sorry but I do not speak ____ very well.'” — advice from daveesl

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5. Be prepared to eat at local restaurants

“As for menus, avoid restaurants that have them in multiple languages, since they are usually tourist traps that offer poor food and high prices. Get a menu reader so you can read the menus and you’ll find better, more authentic food.” — advice from nytraveler

6. Feel confident asking for help

“I also know how to say ‘What do you call, or how do you say, that in Spanish’ so I can point at something and a local person will help me learn a new word. And ‘escribe por favor’, asking someone to write down the new word for me.” — advice from suze

7. Make learning the language the point of your trip

“Having done several years of night school once a week, and virtually giving up on the Language, the intensive 2 weeks was a revelation to me. I may not have made huge strides in terms of ‘book learning,’ but after a few days I was no longer nervous about trying to speak – this, to me, was the great breakthrough.” — advice from willit

Related Links

Living Language: How Much High-School Spanish Do You Remember?

From the Forums: Do you have any tips for learning a new language?

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