• Salah Elbaba

Overcoming Language Barriers

So you are travelling to your new home but you realize that you don't speak the language? Don't worry, chances are that there will be quite a few people who speak some English. However, it is important to remember that you are a visitor in their country and it would only be polite to learn some of their language. Below are a few tips to help you get by:


Research the country you are travelling to. What language is spoken? Is there more than one language spoken? If so, which regions speak what language?

Investigate the culture and the local etiquette. For example, how should you convey respect to those of authority or seniority? Sometimes hand signs or gestures that are normal to one culture can be rude in another, so those are always good to research.


At the very least, learn the following:

  • Hello

  • Goodbye

  • Thank you

  • Greetings (morning/evening)

  • Toilet / Where is the toilet?

  • Yes

  • No

  • Excuse me/ Sorry

Once you arrive in the country, you will find that being immersed in the culture and language will help you pick up the language a little easier. You will learn the correct pronunciation, slang and mannerisms.


The biggest language barrier of them all is embarrassment. Remember that the people you are trying to speak to have probably had to learn English and gone through exactly the same experience of having to try at the risk of being wrong or sounding silly. You as a teacher should know that the most you can ask from your learners is that they try, same applies to you!

The worst that could happen is you make a mistake and the person you are talking to has a little giggle. They will probably correct you and then you will have learnt something - not so bad, right?


Hello? It's the 21st century! Have you seen the apps they come up with these days? Google Translate allows you to translate phrases which the app will then pronounce for you! It will even translate signs, menus and other written or printed texts. Best part? It's free and available for both Android and iOS users.

Your phone will get you through pretty much any situation so keep it close to hand. You can take note of where your hotel is; use the offline maps; save photos of where you want to go; and make notes of useful phrases and words. All of these will help you when asking for directions or showing a taxi driver where you would like to go.

At the end of the day, the idea of not being able to speak the local language sounds a lot more daunting than it really is. In this day and age, if there are tourists in the area, there are always people who speak English. Remember, you may be going there to teach but you are going to learn a whole lot of stuff. A new language is only the start.


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