Travel Fear: Language Barrier

It’s Fearless Friday! Today we’re addressing a travel fear I get asked about often. “Do you speak their language? No? How will you survive?!”

Seriously, it’s not as big a problem as you may think! My first ever trip abroad was to Japan for three months when I was 20 years old. I didn’t know anyone there; the only contact I had with the people at the school where I’d be teaching English was through e-mail. I didn’t even know what they looked like until they picked me up at the airport in Nagoya, Japan! If I had been too scared to go, I would have missed out on amazing food, knowing kind people, and learning just how powerful my faith can be when there’s no one else to talk to!

Since then, I’ve traveled to many countries whose first language is not English–Turkey, Switzerland, France, Germany, Thailand, Cambodia, Poland, Slovakia, Czech Republic, and just to name a few! Here are a few reasons why it’s not a big deal:

 1. Other people speak English.

I’m completely embarrassed that I don’t know more than one language. America is a wonderful country, but I wish there was more emphasis put on other languages. I wanted to learn French when I was little, but I didn’t know where to begin. The good thing about English, however, is that it has truly become a global language. In all my travels, I’ve never been to a place where absolutely no  one spoke a stitch of English. There is usually someone around who speaks enough English to help you communicate if necessary.

Here’s an anecdote from a couple of non-Americans, just in case you think I’m only writing in arrogance. When I lived in Japan, I met a Finnish couple who were actually irritated that more Japanese people didn’t speak better English because it’s the global language. I was shocked to hear this from people whose first language isn’t English!

 2. All you have to do is try!

You, too, can learn a few phrases! Before I go to a new country, I learn a few key phrases in the native language. Those words include please, thank you (that one is the MOST important!), bathroom, yes, and no. You don’t have to do it perfectly, but try to listen closely to the words instead of looking at the letters. Google has a translation function at that will say the wordd you’re looking for in the language you choose, so you can hear the word and learn to pronounce it well enough. I write these words down in a little notebook I keep with me, but I write them down as they sound, no necessarily how they are spelled.

People appreciate when you try! They might laugh about it, but don’t feel like they are laughing at you. They are just delighted when you try to speak their language. Just trying to speak a few words shows you have respect for them and for their country. People everywhere appreciate that.

 3. Charades: Not just for parties!

If all else fails, you can fall back on your gesturing skills. In the few instances where language fails, I’ve always been able to get the point across with hand gestures or acting out what I want to say.

This is me NOT letting language be a barrier in Japan:





Trust me, you can do it! A language barrier is no reason not to travel some place new. Never fear!

Is something else about a language barrier preventing you from traveling? Comment below!


Published by quickwhittravel

Welcome to the blog! We do things a little differently around here: no ads, no negativity, and no checked luggage, y'all. My name is Whitney, and Quick Whit Travel Blog is your one-stop shop for all the best travel tips, packing advice, and destination information. Click around or message me on social media @quickwhittravel for more!

7 thoughts on “Travel Fear: Language Barrier

  1. When I visited Beijing in graduate school, many of the signs were in English and Chinese (at the very least, English letters representing Chinese sounds), so communication could, theoretically, happen.

    Hong Kong was a British colony for over 100 years, so most people spoke Cantonese and English.

    1. Have you checked out the app called “DuoLingo”? Not sure if they have those languages, but it might be worth checking out! Otherwise, use Google Translate for some basic words and phrases. Good luck and have fun! Would love to visit those countries!

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