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Language Barriers | XL Travel Blog

Overcoming Language Barriers When Traveling

Posted on 01. Oct, 2013 by in Vacations

You’re all packed and ready for the vacation of a lifetime. Maybe you’re taking a train across Europe, or heading through India, or even further afield to Asia.

You’ve taken every precaution with health insurance, spare credit card for emergencies, and someone at home has your itinerary. But how are you going to communicate?

Dealing with language barriers can be intimidating for the globetrotter. We are accustomed to functioning daily in our first or second language. When we are suddenly thrust into a country where the mother tongue is strange to our ears, we can become quite uncomfortable.


There is no need to ruin your vacation by fretting over language, regardless of where you travel. First of all, if you are in a city, you will find English speakers. English remains the international language of business and commerce, so when in doubt, head to a bank or a large hotel. You will likely find at least one staff member who can communicate in basic English and can help you out during a pinch.

Even in the most far-flung locations, especially in Asia, restaurants are trying to make things easier for tourists. Open a menu in China, and you’ll find a picture of not only a dish, but an image of a chicken or fish next to it, to tell you what goes into the meal.

If you are spending a significant amount of time in a foreign country, invest in a guide, at least for the first few days or weeks. These are locals who are bi- or multi-lingual and are willing to help strangers integrate into the local community. They’ll point out the local sites, help you navigate language barriers, show you where the embassies and consulates are if you need them, and generally look out for your safety. Guides are paid by the day, anywhere from $25 to $100 USD per day.

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