• 22 August 2016

One of the best things about travelling to Europe is that you get to experience a culture that is completely different from your own – you can sample new foods, see new sights and immerse yourself in the various peculiarities of a foreign destination, which is always immensely rewarding. However, the one hiccup that newly initiated travellers often encounter is the frustration of a seemingly insurmountable language barrier.

At Expat Explore, we’ve been around the European block a few times and we’ve picked up a few tricks along the way. Here are our top three tips to overcome language barriers while travelling:

Go prepared!
Learn a few basic phrases in the native language of the country you’re visiting. This may seem obvious, but we often host travellers on our European coach tours who have not done any research about their destinations at all. The world wide web is an incredible resource in this regard – you can simply search ‘useful phrases + Swedish’ (for instance) and you’ll find everything you’re looking for. Not sure how to pronounce a certain word or phrase? Simply search ‘<word/phrase> + pronunciation + audio’ to listen to the correct pronunciation online.


Alternatively, you could invest in a translation app. Here is a handy list of  popular travel translation apps for 2016. Depending on how tech-savvy you are, you can choose from a variety of basic text conversion or voice-powered apps that translate for you as you speak! There are even apps that can convert character dialects and non-Latin languages into Roman letters to make signs and written missives easier to understand. If you’re willing to go the lengths, you can even try online language lessons available all over the internet, like these free online Italian Language lessons.


Be patient!
One of the best pieces of advice we can give you about overcoming language barriers while you travel is to be patient and cultivate a good sense of humour. In frustrating situations where you are battling to understand a local vendor or service provider, it helps a lot if you can remain calm, friendly and courteous. Keep your body language relaxed and approachable – without the benefit of linguistic context, bunched fists and a red face will be read as aggression and hamper your efforts to communicate.

Get creative!
If all else fails, get inventive and try the age-old gesturing or drawing-on-a-piece-of-paper technique. Body language can also help a lot when trying to order food – flap like a chicken, moo like a cow. At best, the service man or woman will be amused and be more friendly to you!

Lastly, before heading to Europe watch a foreign language film (with subtitles of course) or download some music in the language that you hope to learn – nothing like a bit of inspiration before you head off to a new destination!


Have you ever encountered an amusing ‘lost in translation’ moment while you were travelling? Get in touch in the comment section to share your experience!

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