Travel journalist, Josh Steer talks about how to break through the language barrier in order to be able to communicate while abroad.
In the Western world, we often believe that we can go anywhere and speak English. Is that true though? No.
The world’s population today sits at around 7.5 billion and, out of that enormous figure, only 360 million people count English as their first language. If you include everyone who speaks English as a second language, on the other hand, the number increases to about 1.5 billion. Though that number may seem high, at only 20% of the world’s population, you can’t guarantee that a holiday abroad will always afford you the ability to communicate fully with those you encounter.
If you truly want to be able to connect with people when you travel, which is one of the biggest draws of travelling far and wide, you will have to find a way of breaking past the barrier, and I don’t mean learning every language on the planet! Though speaking English may afford you a very pleasant travel experience when in many major cities, once you head outside, you will struggle.
Diving into other cultures
Anyone who has travelled a lot and taken advantage of those group tours that transport you from place to place with all the morsels of information will know that, while these tours are useful, it doesn’t afford you the opportunity to truly immerse yourself into the local culture. After a while we seek more genuine and thrilling experiences, engaging with locals and experiencing the culture in more meaningful ways, and what this comes down to is the ability to be able to communicate with others. Having deep and meaningful conversations or simply putting a smile on someone’s face because you take the time to stop and chat is important for many.
Imagine this scenario – you go to Beijing, and you don’t just visit the Great Wall but venture off the beaten track. Here, locals are making handicrafts and are used to smiling and nodding at visitors, gesturing, but no one ever stops by to talk, to actually have a conversation.
Imagine now if you can do that – sit down and have a conversation. Find out how the crafts are made, learn about the life stories behind them and show that you care to do that. You can build meaningful friendships all around the globe if you’re only willing to speak with the residents in a way where they can truly engage with you.
And it’s not just with people in the countryside making crafts. If you walk into a bar in a bigger city, there will still be a lot of communication issues when meeting new people if it’s not an English-speaking city. By speaking their language, you show a willingness to engage on a whole other level. People will appreciate that and will, therefore, open up more easily.
The solution to easy conversations
So, how can this be achieved? Well, most people don’t want to drag a guide around with them as it ruins the intimacy of a moment when meeting someone and, as mentioned, I’m not for a minute suggesting you learn the languages of every place you visit – this would be impossible!
There are translation apps, but many are so unreliable that you can entirely expect to be misunderstood. So, what’s the solution? The electronic translator. Yes, those devices that you may have thought of as outdated technology are in fact extremely useful and efficient. Having improved drastically in recent years, with robotic dictionaries out the window, and now boasting clever AI software and translation engines that can impress even a linguist.
Why I love a translator
Translators, like the Vasco Mini 2 that I tried, aren’t only used by travellers, but by professionals. Companies like Vasco Electronics supply governments, medical institutions and the military with translators, so they can handle intricate conversations using business, tech and medical terminology.
Vasco’s translators can handle more than 50 different languages with a 96% translation accuracy. This means you can explore some 150 plus different countries without any difficulty in making yourself understood. The Vasco Mini 2 also offers free, unlimited internet access for translations in just as many countries, meaning you never have to top up, or deal with different SIM cards, or what’s worse – hunt for Wi-Fi.
I think it’s a really cool gadget for intrepid explorers, particularly as it’s small enough to keep in your pocket and it doesn’t feel like a chore to have to drag it around (unlike that epic lens for your DSLR).
If you want to travel beyond tourist hot spots and truly get to know the locals, it helps to speak their language, or have a translator that does it for you.