"Empower Yourself. Empower Others."

Surviving Foreign Languages

"Where's the Toilet...er...umm....Toilet? WC? Toilette? Pee-Pee? DOES ANYONE HERE SPEAK ENGLISH?!"
surviving foreign languages in non-english speaking countries woman travel solo female travel blog

Some Questions Answered in Part One:
  1. You speak Egyptian Arabic? How did you learn it?
  2. You also speak Hindi and Romanian, did learning your first foreign language help with learning other languages?
  3. I'm only going for a couple of weeks abroad, can I still pick up the basics?
  4. Any advice?

When I first started traveling I was overwhelmed by foreign languages. I used to make a lot of mistakes which now, seven years on the road later, I laugh at myself! Here are some of the Essentials when you travel to a new country and don't speak the language:
  • Don't Use Complete Sentences as you would do back home. For example, although there are many tourists in Bali, I once needed to book a taxi for the next day. I found a taxi stand promoting various shuttle services and there was a British man also trying to order a boat to the Gili Islands. He, with his very proper British English, spoke to the poor woman behind the counter as if he were in London. "Excuse me, Ma'am I would like to order one of your boats to the Gili Islands for tomorrow if possible." The woman was totally lost and stared at me for help. I looked at the woman and said simply, "Boat. Gili. Tomorrow?" The woman smiled in understanding and began relaying to him the boat times for tomorrow in broken English. The British man looked at me and said, "Three words? Really?!" I laughed. Because YES! Sometimes, that's all it takes! So avoid using complete sentences and get to the point!
  • Speak Slowly and Clearly this is pretty self explanatory! However I would like to add that slowly DOES NOT mean LOUDER!!!
  • Get Good at Mime...Like, Real Good how do you mime having to use the toilet or if your hungry or thirsty? It's pretty easy, think charades only if you don't get it right you go thirsty! The more you travel the more you see that there are common UNIVERSAL signs for nearly everything! It's almost a language in its own! Master that and there isn't a single country you can't travel too, even without learning the language!
  • Always carry a pocket phrase book! I personally have a collection of these things and I never tire of using them! Even when I've already mastered some of the language it's always useful to carry one of these in your purse for added conversational pieces and to mix and match sentences or get a feel for grammar. I use Lonely Planet Phrasebooks as you can find any language you may need (even Swahili!) and I like the style of these books better than other phrase books I've tried.
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Part Two Questions Answered
  1. You went to Egypt during the Revolution in 2011?! Wow! What was that like, being the only foreigner and not speaking the language?
  2. Is learning Arabic difficult? They have a lot of sounds that doesn't exist in English!
  3. Share some of your personal stories please!
  4. When you went to Qatar, you spoke both Arabic and Hindi, did that help you in the Bazaar?
  5. How do you feel about speaking multiple languages?

Here's my advice for LEARNING LANGUAGES!
  • Interact with the Locals Don't be intimidated to attempt your broken version of their language, mime or even just say simple sentences in your native tongue while they do the same in theirs! Simply stepping outside your comfort zone and making the effort to communicate with the natives is going to open up a whole world of doors for you! You might be surprised how much you might actually understand just by watching their body language and expressions!
  • Expose Yourself by just going to places where they speak the language, whether you sit in the cafe alone and just actively listen without interacting. That's right, put down your cell phone for an hour and simply PEOPLE WATCH! (One of my favorite hobbies!) The more you listen, the more your brain is going to just one day click. It's as easy as that.
  • Use Online Resources, Apps, Books and Various Language Programs when I went to India the first time, I had gotten a jump start on my Hindi by taking various online courses simultaneously (I'm a multi-tasker) and so when I arrived, I already could confidently speak to the locals! Sure it was just the basics, and my accent wasn't perfected, but it was enough to give me a basic feel for the language. It also built up my vocabulary just enough that when I heard the locals speaking, I could pick up on simple conversations. (A VERY useful skill!) These days, I am currently trying a new approach and taking German lessons while living in England...ya know, just cuz.
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