Travelling in a Foreign Language


One of the questions I’m often asked is how to communicate in a country where I don’t speak the language. While English has increasingly become an available language in popular destinations, learning a little bit of the language for your next trip can make it that much more enjoyable.

My favourite example was a recent trip to Sardinia where the owner of our hotel spoke only Sardinian which not surprisingly, none of us spoke. One of our group spoke a little Italian and together with props, pictures and hand gestures, they managed to find a way and by the end of our stay where great friends!  While language apps have gone a long way to bridging the communication gap, there are times when you may not be able to access your apps so here are a couple of other tips you can use to help you enjoy your travels.


1.       It helps to learn the basics such as please and thank you, hello and good-bye. A little goes a long way and you’ll find people respond well to you.

2.       Have important details such as your hotel name and address written in the local language which you can show a taxi or uber driver to ensure you get to your destination.

3.       Take a phrasebook which can be used by itself or together with a translation app as there may be times where accessing your app isn’t possible. It pays to get one which is small enough to carry in your handbag or daypack.   

4.       When we don’t have the words, we often resort to hand gestures but an innocent gesture in your country may be offensive in another. For example our gesture for beckoning someone using a curled finger signifies death in Singapore and Japan which is probably not what you meant to convey. The link below takes you through some common gestures, where and what they mean in different countries.

5.       Draw a picture – I’ve found this helpful for getting directions and, as my friends well know I’m very directionally challenged so having something drawn is enormously helpful for me!

6.       Hire a local guide fluent in your language – this provides significant value for excursions to monuments, historic areas etc. This will often add significant value giving you information and understanding which you wouldn’t otherwise have access to.

7.       Use google translate which is available online and also as an app.

8.       Get an app which can help you understand and be understood. Familiarise yourself with it before you head off so that you’re not trying to learn it as you’re trying to communicate!


Happy Travels!