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5 Bizarre Ways to Overcome Language Barriers While Travelling

Let’s face it: you can’t really learn Greek in two months before your island adventure in this country starts. Yes, there are ways to learn a language really quickly, but you don’t always have the time to do it before the trip. Plus, why should you bother learning a language you’ll only need during one vacation? You’ll learn few expressions and words when you get there, and that should be enough.

Wherever you go, you just hope the people there will understand English. Sometimes that doesn’t happen.

Imagine you get lost and you find a local who doesn’t speak English. How do you express yourself in a way they can understand? Let’s say a local family invites you for a dinner and you don’t know how to give a compliment for the food.

We’ll give you five unusual ways to overcome language barriers while travelling. And no, they don’t involve carrying a dictionary wherever you go.


The creators of ICONSPEAK have been traveling to foreign countries and exploring foreign cultures without knowing the language. They got into all sorts of weird situations, which got them thinking: how can they overcome the language barriers on a global level? That’s how they developed the concept of icons, which can express what you’re trying to say.

You can get a shirt or bag that’s specifically designed to feature icons you’d need in particular cities, such as Barcelona, Amsterdam, Paris, New York, and so on. You can also get items with icons you’ll need at the beach, mountain, or while sailing.

Whenever you want to ask or say something, you just point the signs. Cool, huh?

  1. Act It Out

Lisa Jackson, a writer from UKBestEssays, has been travelling through European countries for the last three years. She couldn’t possibly learn all languages, but she realized that acting out works everywhere.

“I don’t know how to say this is tasty in all languages, but I know that rubbing my belly and saying “mmmmmm” means the same thing in every language,” – she says. “When I travel, I feel free to use my hands, face, and whole body to express myself. It may sound primitive, but it works. Plus, it’s fun!”

Set yourself free. It’s time to push the boundaries of proper behavior. If you want to ask a local for a good place to eat, you may act out the motion of taking bites. If you’re trying to find the sea, swim in the air and everyone will understand what you’re trying to say.

  1. Just Point!

You want to order a random meal from the menu, but you don’t know how to pronounce it? Just point! You’re trying to order something you like, but you don’t know how? Why don’t you get in the kitchen and point the ingredients? In China, in particular, people are used to doing that – getting into restaurants’ kitchens to “negotiate” the meal with the chef.

You want to buy someone a drink? Point your drink and point the person. The waiter will understand.

  1. Beware: Some Gestures Can Mean Something Else         

You remember that scene from Bean, when Mr. Bean showed the middle finger to everyone he saw? He didn’t understand the gesture. It’s a funny thing to watch, but such gestures may also offend someone who understands them.

When you’re in a foreign country, you may see some gestures for the first time. Maybe you’re seeing a gesture you think you know, but means a completely different thing to the locals. Don’t use those signs before understanding what they mean.

Also, don’t be so confident with the signs you’re using back home. Thumbs up, for example, is a sign of approval in most cultures, but is offensive in some parts of the Middle East.

  1. Draw Pictures

How about taking a pen and a piece of paper wherever you go? That can save you from many confusing situations.

You’re looking for a church or a castle the locals told you to see? Well, just draw a church or a castle and they will give you the directions. In fact, they can draw you a map.

You can use the same method to order a meal or ask where the toilet is. Be creative; you can really draw any question you have on your mind.

Language Barriers Make the Trip Even More Exciting!

Can you imagine what a boring place the world would be if we all spoke the same language? Diversity is part of the excitement, and the language is an important element of diversity.

You don’t understand the locals and you don’t know how to talk to them? No worries! Speech is not the only method of communication we have available. Drop your personal barriers. Express yourself. The above-listed bizarre ways to overcome language barriers will only make your trip more special.

Brenda Savoie is a private English tutor, content marketer and desperate dreamer. Writing her first romantic novel. Check her blog Best Writing Clues.  Find her on Twitter and Facebook.