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July 2018

Travelling Well with a Foreign Language

How to prepare linguistically for your trip

Travelling in a foreign country can be an anxiety-inducing experience. This is especially true when visiting countries that speak languages very different from your own. While people are more or less the same everywhere, customs and rules can vary dramatically. Preparing for your trip beyond just packing and planning, but also by developing the language skills to communicate in the country’s language, can improve your travel experience substantially.

Focus on relevant vocabulary

If you aren’t already an advanced speaker in the target country’s language, you most likely won’t become fluent before your scheduled trip. Thankfully, you don’t need to be loquacious to make use of language in a practical sense. It all comes down to smart study.

Rather than learning a wide array of vocabulary, focus on relevant vocabulary pertaining to travel. This includes words related to transportation, dining, purchasing tickets, grocery shopping, and common requests.

It’s also best to identify that which interests you most in travel. For example, if you’re a fan of history museums, learning vocabulary relevant to history, culture, and archaeology can help a lot, especially if the museums you end up visiting don’t provide translations.

Of course, the most basic queries are often the most important, and it’s invaluable to learn how to ask for the restroom.

Learn to behave yourself

Before visiting any country, learn if there are any unique rules and customs that don’t exist in your home country. American visitors to Italy might not know that one should not touch produce without first putting on provided plastic gloves, or that shoppers need to weigh produce themselves before heading to the cashier. Learning these rules ahead of time can save you from a lot of embarrassment down the line.

More importantly, make sure to note any bigger prohibited actions in the country you are visiting. For example, chewing gum is banned in Singapore, so you’ll want to leave your minty sticks at home. Other than these different rules, being courteous ought to keep you out of most trouble; it never hurts to learn how to say “please”, “sorry”, and “thank you”.

Know your transportation options

It’s very likely that you’ll need travel options after you’ve arrived at your destination airport. While most cities provide buses, rail lines, and taxis, some countries also offer alternate modes of transportation like shared mini-buses. Learning which are valid and safe transport options can help keep you out of harm’s way while en route to your accommodations. If you take a taxi, research how fares are charged to avoid getting ripped off.

It’s worthwhile learning some useful transportation phrases beforehand. These could include asking a taxi driver for an estimate on fare costs to reach a particular destination, or asking an attendant for help with navigating a complex metropolitan system (some can be rather confounding, especially when written in a different language). While spontaneity is fun for many things in life, doing a little research into getting around can save you more mental energy for enjoying your time there.

Safety first

No one likes to think about emergencies during travel, but it’s a good idea to make note of emergency phone numbers during your trip. Learning some phrases for requesting assistance is not a bad idea either. Just knowing the word “help” can get you assistance much faster than screaming like a crazy person.

Keep a small phrasebook with you while you travel or write down your most important phrases and words for easy access. One should not have to worry about worst-case scenarios while enjoying time abroad, so preparing for them in advance can let you remain worry free during your trip.

What are your linguistic tips for preparing for a trip? What were the most useful phrases for you during your travels? Let us know your thoughts on our Facebook Page, and be sure to “like” TELC English for more language learning articles!