Going on holiday is a wonderful thing and with the percentage of the world that’s capable of speaking English, you never think too much about the language barrier. But sometimes it’s nice to fully embrace the tourist life and embark on a journey to somewhere where English is non-existent, or at least minimal.
And yes, this comes with some problems.
So how do we brave tourists survive in such a world? How are we able to live – temporarily – in these harsh environments? Here are my 8 Methods of survival:
Method 1: Purchase a phrasebook. This is the golden rule for all travelling Brits. We are not ashamed to walk around with phrasebook in one hand, half-opened bumbag in the other. We will proudly stand confused on street corners as we consult the little map we have and practice some poorly pronounced foreign words before we try them out on a local. Yep, we’ve all been there. And although it’s not necessarily the most attractive portrait of the English tourist, it is somewhat true. But this is not the time for pride to obstruct our true purpose and we must peruse that little blue book for a saving grace.
Method 2: Look at the local culture. Now it may be that there are other languages that are spoken in that region. Although we English stand proud beside our native tongue, some nations are less intimidated by adopting a second one. When visiting Canada, French will not be uncommon. When visiting the Netherlands, German will be widely used. This is the same for visiting Denmark. Russia, Ukraine and Poland all have very similar dialects and can be easily understood once you know one. Even Brazil and Mexico are Spanish speakers – which is not too different from Portuguese. Check out the other local lingos, you might strike gold when you discover you can speak one of the other languages, even if the only thing you can do is ask for the bill.
Method 3: Practice charades. Spend a week of your life acting out everything you want to say. Gestures are generally understood worldwide – I advise you check the offensive gestures first and steer clear of those ones. The last thing you want to do is order a drink and accidentally insult the waiter. They might do something unpleasant to it. So learn how to ask for a tub rather than a cone when you order your ice cream. *cup your hands into a bowl shape in front of you* Or perhaps the classic ordering of a drink. *make a c shape with your hand and tip it towards your face* But always, always, always remember to indicate the number with your fingers. Don’t go making the rookie mistake of asking for one burger and getting two. (I would advise you find a way of asking for ‘two more minutes’ when deciding want you want from the menu as it would be devastating should the waiter mistake this for you wanting to order two beers.)
Method 4: Do your research. You may find yourself in a difficult situation when you look down at the menu and realise you don’t know what everything is. Especially when something is a local dish and therefore no English translation exists. Who knows what you could be ordering. That innocent pasta dish could turn out to be snails or frogs. You may want to search a local menu and then cross reference it with images as there could be a small shock when you discover they don’t behead their fish before serving them and the glazed eyes of a freshly caught monkfish is looking up from your plate. *shudder*
Method 5: Befriend a local. This is perhaps the oldest trick in the book and will easily avoid all your language problems. That is assuming that they do in fact speak English. You’ll want to make yourself a regular (if this is someone who runs a pub/bar/café) or at least attempt to be chatty and conversational – this could be where method 1 comes in handy and acts as your ice breaker. Once they take pity on you, they will begin to teach a few things here and there, whether it be the language or local culture. Take everything with good grace and absorb as much as possible. This is the perfect opportunity to practice your poor pronunciation. Get the basics under your belt and then you’ll be good to go.
Method 6: Stay in your room and never go outside. This alternative solution would mean no interaction with individuals who don’t speak English unless you suddenly begin to suffer from Amnesia. It may not be the best solution considering you’ve spent large amounts of cash and taken the trouble to travel all the way out here. Especially if you’re planning on working on your tan, not much tanning happening in your room.
Method 7: Similar to 6 – although less drastic – stay on the resort. This could be a good thing or a bad thing, depending on the resort. Some places will be rigged to the max in order to give you as much to do as possible with no need to even step foot off the resort, other places will be more isolated. This is your own decision and could be the solution. At least if you stay on the resort you can be fairly comforted in the fact that there will be at least one other person out there that speaks a smidgen of English. You’ll just have to find them every time you have a language mishap.
Method 8: Suck it up, learn the lingo. Maybe it’s time to just stop being a baby about it and learn the language. Learn it in advance to save the embarrassment. After all, showing that you’ve made an effort is surely going to be better than bumming around and making a fool of yourself as you try to act out ‘what is my checkout time?’ Some countries (maybe not France) will probably lend a helping hand and at least try to understand what you’re saying, rather than turning a blind eye. And who knows? You might even discover some secret local hotspots for a really snazzy time.
So what if you don’t speak the language? That’s not the end of the world. There are other things that can be done to combat this and with a little effort, you will be able to sit back, relax and enjoy the holiday that your hard earned pennies have paid for. But if you do find yourself a little stuck – whatever you do – don’t start gesticulating wildly, they might arrest you.