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Old Jun 18, 17, 2:30 pm   #1
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How to communicate in a foreign country?

How can you learn about a culture and meet locals without speaking their language?
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Old Jun 18, 17, 2:52 pm   #2
  
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Shout loudly in English.
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Old Jun 18, 17, 2:59 pm   #3
  
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What an amazingly helpful response.
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Old Jun 18, 17, 3:04 pm   #4
  
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Why thank you!

(Otherwise I communicate with phrasebook language and learn as I go)
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Old Jun 18, 17, 3:53 pm   #5
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Quote:
Originally Posted by AlexanderRae View Post
How can you learn about a culture and meet locals without speaking their language?
A combination of learning a few phrases in their language, finding someone who speaks your language, or settling on a third. And lucking out with material in a language you understand (e.g. Inka and Machu Picchu museums were both dual Spanish/English).

I was once on a trip in Italy and had a nice conversation with a Romanian couple in French. Out of the blue I took a shot with "Parlez-vous Francais?" and we were off.

Last week, I learned a lot about the Sacred Valley of Peru from a Chinchero resident who spoke only English and Quechua, minimal Spanish.

Between English, French, and a poco Espanol, I've managed to get by. But I haven't traveled to inner China or similar places. I suspect gestures, photos, etc., would be needed if I headed somewhere like that. Or a Guide/Translator.

Last edited by CPRich; Jun 18, 17 at 9:02 pm
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Old Jun 18, 17, 4:17 pm   #6
  
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Originally Posted by CPRich View Post
A combination of learning a few phrases in their language, finding someone who speaks your language, or setting on a third. And lucking out with material in a language you understand (e.g. Inka and Machu Picchu museums were both dual Spanish/English).

I was once on a trip in Italy and had a nice conversation with a Romanian couple in French. Out of the blue I took a shot with "Parlez-vous Francais?" and we were off.

Last week, I learned a lot about the Sacred Valley of Peru from a Chinchero resident who spoke only English and Quechua, minimal Spanish.

Between English, French, and a poco Espanol, I've managed to get by. But I haven't traveled to inner China or similar places. I suspect gestures, photos, etc., would be needed if I headed somewhere like that. Or a Guide/Translator.
It's surprising sometimes what will pop up like that. I once was at a B&B in Mexico where the American-born owner spoke English and Spanish fluently but a couple from France were there and they spoke more limited Spanish and English. My French isn't the best but I helped the three of them bridge the gap from time to time, which also helped refresh my French and Spanish a bit.

I'd say learning what you can beforehand, even if just basic phrases, is a good start, then get a good phrasebook and Google translate. Or like you said get a guide if more is needed in some locales - or even in places where you do speak some of the language if you want to get more in-depth.
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Old Jun 18, 17, 5:09 pm   #7
  
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Originally Posted by AlexanderRae View Post
How can you learn about a culture and meet locals without speaking their language?
A lot depends on what "foreign country" you are visiting. English is spoken, at least to some extent, in many countries. You can get by very well in those.

I agree that learning a few phrases in the local language before the trip can be helpful. After basic greetings, I'd suggest something like "Do you speak English?" Followed, of course, by the very important "Where is the public lavatory?"

Make an effort to learn how to say "hello," "excuse me," "thank you" and "good-by" in the local language and you will be surprised how much the locals will make an effort to communicate with you.
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Old Jun 18, 17, 5:30 pm   #8
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I admit that I'm extraordinarily fortunate that I speak English, meaning that most museums and cultural sites I've visited worldwide -- even where English isn't the native language -- have signs and guides who speak English.

I speak some Spanish and a smattering of Arabic, my Mom speaks English, French, Spanish and can get by in Italian, my fiance speaks French, etc.

Asking -- and being willing to pay -- for help is essential. I don't hesitate to use guides, when necessary, in countries where English is not a common second-language and neither me nor my travel companion speak common languages in the country. The concierge in nicer Japanese hotels will bend over backward to help you -- at the Shangri-La Tokyo, they made all of our restaurant and train reservations for us, provided translated menus in anticipation of meals at restaurants where English wasn't spoken, and gave us maps with directions in English and Japanese (including photos of the door at our destination so we'd recognize it).

Google Translate gets better and better -- heck, I use it to communicate with my cleaning people, who do not speak much English (and I speak even less Polish).

If you don't have an easy reference to help you translate, sign language is great! I remember going to China in the 1980s and there was a guy in our group who went out for a stroll and couldn't find his way back to the White Swan Hotel in Guangzhou. Eventually he managed to imitate a bird while pointing to a white shirt and someone figured out where he was trying to go.

I've been to about 50 countries, and I can't think of one where we weren't able to overcome the language barrier in one way or another.
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Old Jun 18, 17, 6:27 pm   #9
  
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Perfect!
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Old Jun 18, 17, 6:30 pm   #10
  
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Is this really weird? that sometimes I enjoy being in a country where I don't know the language because I can just tune it all out and be in my head - guess it's an introverted thing
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Old Jun 18, 17, 9:17 pm   #11
  
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Is this really weird? that sometimes I enjoy being in a country where I don't know the language because I can just tune it all out and be in my head - guess it's an introverted thing
I don't know if it is weird but I have something similar. I have traveled extensively in Japan and speak enough Japanese to get along pretty well when necessary. The problem is that many students who are studying English can be a bit aggressive at times in trying to engage English-speaking visitors in "practice conversations." I don't mind helping them once in awhile but on occasion I respond in German, claiming I don't speak English. My German is pretty bad, from high school, but they don't know that and I can escape the language lesson and "be in my head" without being too rude.

Sometimes we just want to enjoy our travel experiences alone. Nothing weird about that.
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Old Jun 18, 17, 9:19 pm   #12
  
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Originally Posted by abmj-jr View Post
I agree that learning a few phrases in the local language before the trip can be helpful. After basic greetings, I'd suggest something like "Do you speak English?" Followed, of course, by the very important "Where is the public lavatory?"

Make an effort to learn how to say "hello," "excuse me," "thank you" and "good-by" in the local language and you will be surprised how much the locals will make an effort to communicate with you.
"Please" is also very good to know
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Old Jun 18, 17, 9:41 pm   #13
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Originally Posted by CPRich View Post
A combination of learning a few phrases in their language, finding someone who speaks your language, or settling on a third. And lucking out with material in a language you understand (e.g. Inka and Machu Picchu museums were both dual Spanish/English).

I was once on a trip in Italy and had a nice conversation with a Romanian couple in French. Out of the blue I took a shot with "Parlez-vous Francais?" and we were off.
I'm thinking back to 1975, Romania. We had a run-in with the police over a supposed over-stay (their official messed up, we did nothing wrong.) Quite a language problem until my mother and the official we were talking to found they both spoke some German. (And my father's German was rustier than hers--he could basically understand their conversation but couldn't add to it.)

Quote:
Between English, French, and a poco Espanol, I've managed to get by. But I haven't traveled to inner China or similar places. I suspect gestures, photos, etc., would be needed if I headed somewhere like that. Or a Guide/Translator.
I have spent a fair amount of time off the tourist path in China. While most of the time my wife handles communication I do go out on my own a bit. When both people know how things are supposed to go down it's usually possible to accomplish your objective with little if any language in common.

These days a phone is a big help. I don't set foot in a country without having the offline translation for that language loaded into Google Translate. It's not as good as the online translation but it works even without coverage or a SIM. Unfortunately, I haven't solved the problem that android handwriting recognition is online only. I can do English -> Chinese on my phone but if I don't have a connection they can't reply. It's something that experience helps with, especially if both people are used to working around a language barrier. (In our dating time we had a major language barrier, "smartphone" wasn't a word and our translation was limited to a British -> Chinese dictionary but not the reverse. We got very creative at getting things across. The one that really puzzled listeners is the chemical symbols are the same and we both have taken chemistry classes--thus we would sometimes use a chemical formula when she didn't know the English name for something.)
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Old Jun 18, 17, 9:43 pm   #14
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Originally Posted by abmj-jr View Post
A lot depends on what "foreign country" you are visiting. English is spoken, at least to some extent, in many countries. You can get by very well in those.

I agree that learning a few phrases in the local language before the trip can be helpful. After basic greetings, I'd suggest something like "Do you speak English?" Followed, of course, by the very important "Where is the public lavatory?"

Make an effort to learn how to say "hello," "excuse me," "thank you" and "good-by" in the local language and you will be surprised how much the locals will make an effort to communicate with you.
It depends on the country. I have a very hard time with the Chinese tones--and thus even when I know what to say it's at best 50:50 whether I'll be understood. Again and again I've had the experience of saying something and not be understood, my wife as far as I can tell perfectly echoes it and they understand.
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Old Jun 18, 17, 9:45 pm   #15
  
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My tips for communicating abroad:

1) Speaking English puts one at a substantial advantage. English is either the primary language, or a reasonably common secondary language, across many places you might want to visit, particularly big cities, business destinations, and tourist spots.

2) Learn a bit of the language of the place you're going. Type into your favorite search engine, "Common phrases in [language]". Within a few hours you can learn greetings, please/thank you, a few numbers, and a few common requests for help. These certainly won't enable you to hold a conversation but they will endear you to the locals. Once you demonstrate respect for their language and culture they'll take much greater interest in helping you-- whether that's something they can do themselves, with their own foreign language skills, or by getting you to someone who can help.

3) Always be absorbing information about other cultures. Maintain a soft-focus awareness of how people behave. Copy mannerisms (within reason), ask polite questions about what you observe, look things up on your own. Keep abreast of the issues of the day in the country you're visiting. Pay particular attention to issues affecting both that country and yours. When locals do engage you in talk about issues-- which people in certain cultures are hesitant to do-- you'll earn respect by displaying a nuanced understanding.
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