I guess many people, especially first time travelers, encounter with a dilemma, how to travel if they do not understand nor speak a language of the visited country. I think it is much easier for travelers, coming from small countries like myself. Slovenia has only 2 million inhabitants and we are probably one of the smallest nations, having our own language. That is also the reason we know how to adjust easily and speak at least one foreign language.
Even though I have been learning foreign languages since grammar school, it was still a struggle for me, when I decided to travel completely on my own. I was 16, when I stopped traveling with my parents and from then on, I was challenged with language barriers every time I traveled. Knowing some English and German did help of course, but I still did not feel very comfortable to use it. You can imagine that I did not have any good night sleep, before my first exploration of this amazing world we live in.
But like many times before, I was scared with absolutely no reason and the best thing you can do is just go. When you are thrown into the water you just have to start kicking. The deeper the water is, stronger your kicking gets. And traveling is exactly like swimming…. you are there, not knowing anyone or anything, but you have to catch the next bus to a god forsaken town, which you can’t even read the name of. You think that everyone is staring at you, but when you calm yourself down, you know that everyone you see, want to help. You cannot understand them and they cannot understand you, but you can read it from their faces. Oh, the joy of traveling! 🙂
Before I go somewhere, I always try to learn at least few basic words, like thank you, hello, please, how are you. You cannot believe, how well accepted you become with locals if you know to say something in their language. The less touristic places you visit more welcomed and rewarded your knowledge of their language becomes. Knowing only few words is like a well kept key, which unlock people homes and hearts. For the rest, you can never miss with a true smile, trying to play show and tell or using your drawing skills in the sand in the middle of a desert or in the thick jungle, where mud is your canvas.
I was learning many languages (English, German, French, Italian, Turkish, Arabic and basic words of others) and even though I cannot speak most of them now, I still remember few words, sentences and numbers. Due to that, I always was able to approach locals closer and easier than if I would not know to speak anything. In their eyes I immediately transformed from a stranger, to their trusted friend! No wonder that goodbyes are always the hardest thing on my travels. Lots of tears are sheard every time…
The fact is that language helps a lot, but if you don’t know how to speak it, it does not mean you have to stay at home… More you travel, easier everything becomes, including breaking the language barriers. I know now, that everything always works out fine if you are kind and approachable. One thing is certain though – not knowing the language well, brings you some of the most wonderful and unforgettable travel memories for sure.