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Armed With Conversational Language Of A Foreign Country

Discussion in 'Asia' started by Corzhens, Jun 21, 2016.

  1. Corzhens

    Corzhens Active Member

    They say that tourists have that knack for communication regardless if they know the native language or not. I'd say yes and no. In our first trip to Hongkong, we barely survived because there were almost no English speakers in 1994. Last year in Beijing, we terribly failed because of lack of English on the part of the Chinese. We bought beef noodles that turned out to be donkey's meat, huh. All because of the language barrier.

    But anyway, do you manage to communicate with non-English speaking native of a country that you visited? Or do you come prepared with conversational sentences?
  2. Valerie

    Valerie Active Member

    Language barriers are indeed troubling, but fortunately, if you do study up or have some common knowledge of how to communicate, things usually don't turn out too terribly. There's a series of factors to this that we have to consider. First, is the location well-traversed or no? Are there must-see tourist locations that bring in a lot of foreigners? Is the area open to/tolerant of foreigners or not?

    When I went to Mexico in 2004, my parents and I studied up on common Spanish phrases to make sure that if we ran into someone who didn't know English, we could get by okay. Turns out, because of the vast majority of guests at the hotel being able to speak English, all the staff was fluent. However, as soon as you hailed a taxi, it was a completely different story. We did okay with our combined knowledge of Spanish. The hotel staff was incredibly helpful and handed out guidebooks with useful sentences like "Where is...." and "What is..." and "How much..." so tourists could converse.

    In Japan, it again depends on the environment. Places where tourists are common, like the Metropolitan area of Tokyo, everything considered an attraction has English translations. Hotel staff are bilingual, many souvenir shops have English-speaking staff, and there is no limit to people who know conversational English. If you leave the city or stray from attractions, you might wind up in a place where no one speaks English and nothing is translated, which can be really, really scary.

    I'm curious now. Did you try the donkey meat?
    Corzhens likes this.
  3. crimsonghost747

    crimsonghost747 Active Member

    Language barriers are rarely there for me as I often spend time in areas where people speak some English. Of course I've found my way to many many places where people didn't do that... surprisingly Spain was one of them. However there people speak quite a lot of French (well close to the border, because of the french tourists) so I got by just fine. If they don't speak English or French, then universal sign language and writing numbers down etc works quite ok. :)

    Long story short, no I don't learn the local language. A few words maybe but that's about it. If my current skills aren't enough then I'll figure out a way.
  4. amelia88

    amelia88 Active Member

    Basically I just learn a few words that will hopefully guide me in the right direction and then most of the gaps in between are filled in by google translate or acting out what I want or need. So far that's worked well enough for me in every non English speaking country that I have encountered. I don't know if I went more off the beaten path that it would necessarily be that easy for me.
  5. crimsonghost747

    crimsonghost747 Active Member

    Google translate is a decent tool too... though of course when traveling off the beaten path you won't have internet and the app is quite bad when not connected.
    But in the end everything works out. Hand signs and common sense will get you very far. During my first few days in Armenia I only found 1 person who could speak proper English yet will still found places to sleep, food to eat, transportation etc., There was some confusion once in a while but that's one of the joys of traveling! :)
    amelia88 likes this.
  6. Novelangel

    Novelangel Member

    This thread is amazing. I mean that in a good way, of course. :) I have never traveled somewhere where little to no English was spoken, but I have to chuckle at that statement because you can travel to countries that DO speak English as a first language and still misunderstand people, due to their heavy accents or word usages. American English is different from England's version and both of those versions are different from Australia's version. Irish-English is another matter altogether, with the melodious way it meanders from the path. In fact, you can travel throughout the United States and Canada and pretty much wherever you go you'll hear something unique that you might misunderstand. My dad, who is from the North, traveled down south a lot in the Navy, and one time during his travels, he ended up in an unfamiliar restaurant. Dad ordered what he thought was some kind of breakfast cereal, because the waitress told him it was cow bran. He ended up with a plate full of cow brain and was thoroughly disgusted by it, I might add. When I was in Manila, my Filipina friends laughed themselves silly at my attempts to pronounce words in Tagalog. In fact, they got the most pleasure just hearing me say the word, Tagalog, because never having heard it pronounced, I said it the way I read it... as tag a log. As if children were playing tag around a log. I had no idea and they practically soiled themselves from laughing so hard. :D I once had a friend from Mexico who spoke very little English. We got along fabulously in person, because we could talk with our hands for the most part. We didn't do quite as well over the phone but we got our kicks out of trying. We both spoke some Spanglish so we managed to understand each other more-or-less. :rolleyes:
  7. reverserewind

    reverserewind Member

    I can speak three languages fluently: English, Italian, and Russian. So, I will definitely help me not to get lost in places where people can also speak these languages. However, I'm not sure about visiting countries where people speak none of the languages I understand and can express myself in. Sure, this thing is holding me back to some extent. Do you feel the same way?
  8. Corzhens

    Corzhens Active Member

    In that small eatery in Beijing, we actually ordered beef roll on the first day that we brought to the hotel for our late lunch, coming from a tour of Tiananmen Square. And while eating, I remember my husband and I were joking that the cow in China looked like donkeys. On the second day, we went to a different eatery of the same genre. But this time, we ordered beef noodles. And just like the first eatery, the picture of the cow in their menu resembles a donkey. It's surprising to hear the attendant who happened to know a little English exclaim, "Yes, donkey, yes." When my husband verified, the attendant confirmed that it was not a cow but a donkey as he handed my husband the pack of steaming donkey noodles. And since we had already eaten donkey meat on the previous, it wouldn't hurt to eat again.
  9. maxen57

    maxen57 Member

    I think I would first go to countries that have a modest number of English speakers. I could use some conversational polishing as well and I would practice first before actually going. China is a good choice and I would certainly like to see the land of my ancestors but I would need to be able to communicate with them to get around cities and towns. The towns and villages mostly have the authentic charm tourists were looking for and if you cannot coimmunicate well with the people, you won't be able to do anything in your itenarary.
    Corzhens likes this.
  10. I don't think I would have many problems traveling in the ASEAN region. As it is, I can speak fluently in many of the languages used in the region. I can speak English, which is the official working language of ASEAN. I also speak Malay which is spoken by about 300 million people in the region. On top of that, I can speak Thai and Chinese. Chinese is not a native language of the region but many businesses in ASEAN are run by the Chinese, so if I have to, I can always converse with them in their mother tongue.
  11. Miya

    Miya Active Member

    Whenever I know that I'm going to visit a new country, I try to learn a couple of useful phrases. Of course, it's impossible for me to become fluent in the language in a short time, but I try my best to speak whatever I can. I hate not being able to communicate when I'm in a foreign country because it scares me. Fortunately, everytime I've been to a new country, I've met someone who could speak the same language as I. So even though I come prepared, I've never actually had to use the phrases I praticed.
  12. My mother likes to travel. So far, she has traveled to France, China and Japan. In China, she has no problem at all with the language because Chinese is her mother tongue. When she went to France and Japan, she managed to learn to speak enough of the local language to shop on her own. When she came back, she forgot all that she had learned about French and Japanese. I suppose necessity is truly the mother of learning.
  13. Valentino

    Valentino Member

    I always try to learn the language of the country I'll be visiting. Just enough to ask a few questions to find out if there is anyone who can act as an interpreter.

    I've heard that there are some apps which can help with translating a language. I haven't used them yet but though they may be far from perfect, tourists could find them useful when they are traveling and don't know the local languages.
  14. Ava

    Ava Member

    A good traveler will always learn a few phrases before they arrive to a foreign country and I tend to write them down, so if I pronounce it incorrectly, then at least other people can read it. As a vegetarian, I do always learn how to say that, and also to ask for certain dishes otherwise I would be very hungry.

    With the internet there is no excuse for people not to know a few phrases at least, and it's much handier to write things down for taxis or buses so you don't go to the wrong place.
  15. Corzhens

    Corzhens Active Member

    That was also our plan - learn a few conversational pieces like "how much" plus the greetings. But in our first travels, we forgot about it and we cleanly survived Singapore, Hongkong and even Bangkok that's why that learning of conversational language did not appeal to us anymore. But with our experience in Beijing last year, maybe we have to be on the lookout when we go to Japan next March for I'm sure English-speaking Japanese is a minority there. By the way, our next trip is Singapore in October, yeah, that's next month already. We didn't have much problem with English in Singapore except when we talk with the street sweeper or gardener. Store attendants and restaurant waiters are good in English including the cab drivers.