Overcoming the language barrier while traveling

I was born and raised in Germany and when I came to the US in 2008 I was far from being fluent in english I knew some phrases and a couple of words but I did not imagine that ordering in a language I am not used to and I don’t speak every day can be challenging. And one thing I have personally experienced that locals truly appreciate the effort of trying to speak the local language I have met lots of people by them just hearing my foreign accent and starting a conversation because of that. 

Even Though English is widely known in Europe, Russian and German are the most common languages used in Europe. Don’t be surprised if in some places not everyone understands the english language as you are vacationing in Europe Here are a few tips on how to manage the language barrier.

Get to know the basics

simple phrases like do you speak english? can you please help me?  hello, thank you, where are the restrooms? (better word to use when abroad is toilette) it’s more widespread, goodbye, yes and no are standard and beneficial to know before entering the destination (the time on airplanes can be used to learn and familiarize yourself with those phrases. What I find most important is making sure to know the words for the things you are allergic to (Dairy, nuts, gluten…)  or a lifestyle you are living (vegan, Vegetarian…).

Speak slowly and clear 

If you meet somebody that speaks english when you are on vacation, try to speak clear and slow. Words that are simple may not be understood if you use the regular speed that you are used to.

Be creative 

bring a notebook and pen to either write down phrases or addresses you need to go to. You can show that to the Taxi driver if the pronunciation gets in the way. Try sketching it up instead of saying it you will be surprised how much will be understood by drawing it out. Take screenshots of landmarks you want to visit sometimes a picture just says more than words and it can help you get to the right place/direction. 

Use Language Translation

Google Translate app is one of my go – to’s it translates and has a feature to repeat it via Audio which is great to help you and children traveling with you to learn how to pronounce words in the local tongue. Or if you prefer the translation books they run without batteries and you can get it in a travel size to fit right into your bag.

Use your body language

Not everyone speaks the same spoken language, but a smile is a universal sign of kindness and can go a long way. In most cultures nodding your head, stands for yes or that you are agreeing and shaking your hands means no or disagreement, but there some countries where that means the opposite, that’s why it is so important to know the customs of your destination country. Facial expressions can give hints if you are confused, worried or understood what was spoken.

Point to things of interest

It can be very useful; gestures can deliver a message very quickly. In Stores, Restaurants, cafe shops are often pictures shown in the menu to point at to show what you want or what interests you.

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Hi, I’m Stefanie

Founder of Imagine Europe Travel

I help overworked, stressed-out professionals like you escape the hamster wheel and experience the best of Europe. I help you see the Europe only the locals know about, go off the beaten path and discover the hidden gems. 


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