Many people avoid traveling overseas because of a fear of encountering a language barrier. Even if you only speak English, there are a few things you can do to make sure you are communicating with ease.
Always speak slowly, simply, and politely. Use simple words, pronouncing every letter. Make single nouns work as entire sentences and begin each request with ‘please.’ Avoid using slang, which will be unfamiliar with people, even those who can understand English.
Try to use internationally understood words. Rather than saying ‘vacation,’ say ‘holiday,’ which would be more easily understood in European countries. Another example is using ‘toilet’ in place of ‘restroom’ or ‘bathroom.’
Be melodramatic and avoid being self-conscious. Exaggerate the local accent and use hand signals and body language to communicate. Use whatever words you know in the language. Most times, the natives will not be offended, but will appreciate your attempt to use their language. Being self-conscious will kill the communication process.
Practice, practice, practice! Read time schedules, posters, multilingual signs, graffiti in bathrooms and newspaper headlines. Develop your ear for foreign languages by tuning into the other languages on a multilingual tour or in the airport. The more you practice, the better you will get. Even if it is learning a new word everyday or every week. You increase your vocabulary and you will become more confident as well.
Keep a notepad handy and write down small phrases or words that you hear or learn. Words and numbers are much easier to understand when they are written. Keep important phrases written down in the notepad, such as ‘I am vegetarian,’ or ‘well-done meat.’
Trust your own educated guess. The key is to see most communication problems as multiple-choice questions. Make an educated guess at the meaning of a message and proceed confidently as if you understand it correctly. When I first went overseas I took a lot of guesses and most times I was right. Always ask and in turn you will learn a lot faster.
If worse comes to worst, fake it. You will find if you do this, you will be right about 80 percent of the time. If you do end up being wrong, it does not really matter…it may even make your trip a little more interesting.
Finally, relax, and don’t worry about making mistakes. You will be surprised at how well you communicate with a 20 word vocabulary and by just making an effort.