And the old joke still circulates:
A person who speaks three languages is tri-lingual.
A person who speaks two languages is bi-lingual.
A person who speaks one language is American.
Before we left for our World adventure, we required everybody to learn at least five words/phrases-“thank you,” “your welcome,” “please,” “excuse me,” and “hello”-in the language of each of the countries we were going to visit. Saying “hello” in that language doesn’t cover it when you need to find a restroom. And crossing your legs and jumping around doesn’t always translate. Kids always level the playing field with their complete candor.
Here are some communication tips when you don’t know the language:
- Use your hands. Pantomime to your heart’s content.
- Use your smile. They know you’re a foreigner. Smiles are a great ice-breaker.
- Memorize just a few phrases. Put the words to music and it becomes a lot easier! Wǒ xiǎng xiān qù cèsuǒ “Where is the bathroom?” in Chinese. Sing it to: ‘I heard it through the grapevine.”
- Use your phone apps. Google Translate or iTranslate are good. Waygo is great studying Chinese, Japanese and Korean. You can actually take a photo of what you don’t understand and say “Aha.” (BTW, the word “Aha” is pretty much the same in every language!)
- Take chances.. Don’t worry about proper pronunciation. People are kind – they will want to help you and, of course, you open the door for them to practice their English on you.
- They’re not laughing at you; they’re smiling to encourage you (Paris, France may be an exception to this rule).
- Pay attention. Great communicators mirror their audiences.
And remember- communication takes two people. Don’t be shy, find one.