Nothing is more frustrating than not being able to communicate, and this is especially true if you’re traveling to another country. If you’ll be traveling to a Spanish-speaking country, your best bet is to try to learn at least rudimentary elements of the language. However, many business travelers find that they have little or no notice that they’ll be traveling, and need to make the best of it without knowing the country’s native tongue.
If you find yourself in this situation, don’t worry – there are some simple nonverbal communication techniques that may be able to help you. While you’ll likely still have some difficulties being understood, you may find that it’s easier than you thought to get your point across.
Body language and gestures, such as pointing, are all good ways to demonstrate what you’re looking for or where you need to get to. However, in some countries this is considered rude. Depending on what you’re trying to express, you may also try pantomiming, or acting out what you’re trying to say, in order to be understood. The best thing to remember is to be patient –it may be difficult for people to understand what you’re trying to “say.”
A picture is worth a thousand words, so carry a pen and paper with you wherever you go. Drawing pictures – even if they’re stick figures – can help people understand you better than waving your arms will. It’s also good for communicating numbers, since the written form of numbers is the same in many different countries, whether or not they speak the same language.
If you’re still getting stuck, you can also try giving your pen and paper to the person you’re trying to communicate with and indicating that they should write down what they’re trying to say. This is especially effective if you can’t understand the cost of something, or if you can’t understand a native’s heavily-accented English. Usually, people will understand what you’re doing and help you out.
You might also want to look into sets of cards that you can carry with you that have pictures of different things, such as food, hotels, or shopping. There is also usually a card for help, as well as cards for directions or medical needs, so that you can make yourself understood in the event of an emergency. You can usually find these decks of cards in travel stores or bookstores, along with several books that offer the same pictures and diagrams. However, the cards are generally easier to use and take up less space in your purse or pocket.
You can also purchase electronic pens that will translate a written sentence into whatever language you need. These pens can really be a great help if you’re stuck, although they are more expensive than the decks of picture cards. In addition, if the pen doesn’t catch every word you write or mistakenly thinks you wrote something else, you may wind up accidently offending the person who’s trying to help you!
Fortunately, many words are universal, especially brand names and some slang terms. Words like “Ok”, “Coca-Cola,” and “taxi” are usually understood, no matter where you are. You can often use these words somewhat creatively to help you get your point across.
If all of the above fail, you may want to simply move on. Being unable to communicate isn’t just frustrating to you – it’s frustrating for the other party as well. If you have some advance notice of your trip, it’s still best to use a Spanish language learning system that is known for quick results. If you don’t have the time to go through an entire program, you may also be able to find an MP3-compatible language learning CD that you can download and learn on your trip there.