5 Ways to Eliminate Language Barriers When Abroad

I’ve made it to day 2 of my daily post challenge, wohoo! It’s only day 2 but this challenge has actually motivated me to work harder! – I challenge you to set yourself a few challenges from time to time.

Such a post is crucial in a time where English no more stands as the world’s number one most spoken language.  With Chinese and Spanish topping English in various statistics it’s no surprise that the common deterrent for going to a “super foreign” country is language.

Language variations should be celebrated, not feared or neglected! Here are a few habits I’ve picked up while abroad which have helped to reduce this barrier; whether in China, Thailand or Greece.

A smile is the best language!
  1. Screenshot/print addresses in the language of your destination

I’ve made the rookie error of screenshotting my AirBnB address in English and while the taxi driver says “yes yes, I know the place”, 30 minutes into the taxi ride I’m requested to provide the address in their language.

Doing this makes life so much easier and you can also show the address to locals if you get lost at any point in time. Simply use Google Translate to get the address in a given language and Bob’s your uncle (meaning “everything will be fine” for my non Brits). 😉

  1. Wear a watch!

Huh!? A super strange one right!? Lol… but I picked up this habit in Chiangmai. This was very common during my trip but in particular during my Thai cooking class, our chef kept referring to left and right using 3 o’clock (for right) and 9 o’clock (for left) on my watch. As pointing is considered to be rude in various countries around the world a watch can be used to aid navigation assistance when asking for directions.

For example, if you stop a local in the street and ask; “I’m planning to go to the ABC Café, is it 3 o’clock or 9 o’clock (while pointing left or right from you watch)? Obviously don’t just say this to anyone as they may question your sanity but if their English is very poor maybe give this a go.

I’ve taken my Vitae London watch with me througout my SE Asia adventure!


  1. Download a custom area offline on maps!

I’ve touched on this one previously but this is gold! Not everyone is confident enough to approach a complete stranger for directions when abroad so hey you can use various sources such as Google Maps or Maps.Me to access navigation even when offline. Obvious (I hope) but be sure to download the maps when online for access offline.

As always there are disclaimers to amazing free tools and with offline maps certain areas are still being worked on, hence, their offline capabilities may be limited (or non-existent).

Me & the BOYS! Elephant Jungle Sanctuary, Chiangmai.
  1. Pack a basic language translation dictionary

I don’t tend to carry a translation dictionary as much as I should because of the extra weight in by backpack (even an extra pen in my backpack is a big deal lol). But they are super handy and I won’t bother buying them for every location. You can easily loan these from your local library right before you head abroad.

I’m big on pronunciation so when I arrive in a new destination I spend a few minutes watching YouTube videos of how to say common words/phrases.

  1. Ask, ask & ask!

The likelihood of you bumping into someone who speaks English while abroad is still pretty likely. Use this as a means of cultural exchange, experience sharing and it simply shows that you are actually interested in the country and its people!

As soon as I arrived in Bali, Indonesia I went into the local K Mart convenient store, introduced myself to the cashier and asked him how to say a few common Balinese words. This has to be my favourite part of travelling… speaking to the locals, getting their insights and going to local spots!

I think I asked too many questions – chef Ken was tired! lol. Smile Organic Farm Cooking School, Chiangmai.

Suksma” for reading the post! I hope it helped! …and I really really hope that language does not deter you from going abroad.

It would be great to see a few approaches you may have taken to reduce language barriers when abroad and as always show some love and share the post!

Doyin 🙂

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