How difficult was the language barrier for you in all these places?

Questions & AnswersCategory: ChallengesHow difficult was the language barrier for you in all these places?
Sean Tierney Staff asked 2 years ago

I’m an English-only speaker right now. How realistic is it that I can get in all these different locales that don’t speak English? Any tips or hacks on how to eek by or rapidly acquire the language skills necessary to survive daily?

1 Answers
Sean Tierney Staff answered 2 years ago

It’s largely dependent on where you go and how much daily interaction you have with locals. I’m fluent in Spanish and half of our travel for Remote Year was in Spanish-speaking countries so those were all easy for me. Plus most of our time was spent at the workspace with others in the group and doing our jobs so there was maybe only 10% of the time where we were actually interacting with locals.  The Slavic countries (Czechia & Belgrade) and Morocco with its Arabic/French were the most difficult for me. We didn’t do Asia. 
Some useful hacks: 

  • Programs like DuoLingo and Rosetta Stone are great for helping you get the basics. For integrating culturally and learning languages the normal 80/20 Pareto rule is more like 99/1 in that you’d be surprised how much goodwill a warm smile and learning just a handful of words can get you. “please, thank you, sorry, where’s the bathroom, food, delicious, hello, goodbye” are the staples here that can get you through most situations. 
  • You can use the audio recognition feature of Google Translate to have an entire conversation relatively easily. We did this with our cab drivers in Morocco and it worked really well. Just open the Google Translate mobile app, speak into it in your native tongue and have it translate to the target language. Show the recipient the screen then have him/her do the same. You can have an entire conversation in Arabic this way and never speak a word of Arabic. It’s really powerful. 
  • Google just recently announced some earbuds that in theory can translate languages in real-time. I’ve not tried them and I don’t believe they’re shipping yet but if you’re traveling in locales where the language barrier is steep, those may be worth investigating.