Visiting a Place Where Nobody Speaks English

Congratulations!

Let me congratulate you in getting out of your comfort zone! This is the beginning of your real-life journey.

Yes, that’s right! It’s just the beginning, but it’s a damn good start!

For some, getting out of the comfort zone is not an easy task. Even for me, so you’re not alone. I am an introvert, and it’s not easy for me to get out and start a conversation with a stranger. But it has to start somewhere. In the next few minutes, I am going to talk about how to overcome your fear of traveling to a country where English is not spoken.

Background

My very first solo flight took place in 2007. So I was kind of late in the game. It wasn’t a domestic flight from Jakarta to Bali nor was it a short-haul flight from Jakarta to Singapore. So where did I travel on my first flight?

I flew from Jakarta to Taipei to Los Angeles to Little Rock (Arkansas). It was my very first trip by myself. I spoke some English, but it wasn’t great. It was the first time for me to visit the United States. I actually moved as a non-immigrant to a new world where I started college and my adult life.

Was it scary? Yes, to a certain point. Was it exciting? Totally! I love flying. I flew on China Airlines from Jakarta to Taipei for 5 hours and from Taipei to Los Angeles for 12 hours. I then flew on American Airlines from Los Angeles to Dallas for 3 hours and from Dallas to Little Rock for one hour. All 21 hours of total flying time in economy.

So that was my first trip, a journey to a country where English is spoken. Back to the topic. What if we travel to a country where nobody speaks English?

Here are the things I would suggest you do when you travel to a country where English is not spoken.

Respect

No matter what, you are a guest. When you are visiting someone’s home, respect them. Respect the people, the culture, the tradition, and the language. Never make fun. Things that you might think are funny, might be offensive to them. I would recommend doing a little research before visiting the country.

Learn Basic Words or Phrases

As simple as “Thank you” and “You’re welcome” makes a huge difference in how the locals perceive you as a tourist. They appreciate that you try. It doesn’t take more than five minutes to google and memorize phrases like: 

  • Thank you
  • Good morning
  • Hello
  • How are you
  • I’m sorry
  • Goodbye
  • Excuse me
  • Help
  • Yes/no

Meet in the Middle

I learned a few things from having traveled to countries like Armenia, Azerbaijan, Ukraine, Georgia, and a few others. After you have accomplished the first point above, you’ll get some ideas about the language. Let’s say, you officially speak a little of their language. Most people speak some or a little English as well. So why don’t you two just meet in the middle?

There may be some words lost in translation. But if you get your points across, that’s all it matters. You’ll survive.

Don’t Be That Guy

I have witnessed when a tourist demanded the locals speak English. Not to mention that the guy tried to show some kind of superiority by speaking English. Well, don’t be that guy. Remember, you are at someone’s house. You respect their rule, not yours.

If fact, when I travel to these countries, I have tried to speak very little English, or perhaps only speak English quietly when I need to. I think it’s just a courtesy. Have you ever seen someone here in the US who yells “Speak English, this is America!”? Well, just reverse that and ask yourself, how would you feel? Fortunately, people from most countries I’ve had the honor of interacting with aren’t like that. They are always welcoming.

Google Translate

These days, technology is cheap. Download Google Translate before your next trip and don’t forget to install the language pack depending on the country you are planning to visit. You can instantly translate words and sentences. You also scan graphics and get translation in real-time.

A Picture is Worth a Thousand Words

If none of the above works, use pictures to communicate. If you are trying to get your point across, you can use your phone to show pictures or point at something. I do this all the time when I’m ordering food at a restaurant.

Conclusion

The reason I’m writing this article is not to lecture. I am trying to share my humble experience in visiting countries where English is not spoken. Never be afraid to travel to these countries because that’s the beauty of traveling. You get to learn the people, the culture, the tradition, and the language. If you feel constrained by this, you’ll miss out on a lot.

Hopefully, you’ll get to meet people along the way from different backgrounds. I certainly have. I have met people from all over the world and became friends. We share our passion for travel. Trust me, the experience is priceless.

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