Jump into foreign travel
I love to travel to foreign countries. Seeing the different cultures and beautiful country sides is exciting. I have a problem, however. I am not a language person. I took several years of foreign language classes in high school, and can only remember a few words and phrases, with a couple curses thrown in for good measure. Short of a quick greeting and reacting to a stubbed toe, I am totally lost.
Luckily for me, and all of the other linguistically challenged people out there, a lot of people in foreign countries speak English. There are over forty countries in the world where English is the most commonly spoken language, and another forty where English is the second most common. The full list can be found here .
I was surprised at how large this list is. There will be times, however, when a little basic foreign language knowledge is necessary. If you noticed, Spain, France, and many of the other major European countries were not on the list. These are great countries to visit; it would be a shame to miss out due to language barriers. Even though a lot of citizens of those countries may speak English, you should still learn a few phrases in the native language.
If you only have the time, or the inclination, to learn a handful of phrases, which ones should you learn? Basic greetings, asking for directions to a bathroom, and please and thank you are all essentials. Learn direction words, such as left, right, north, east, and so on. Yes, no, and “do you speak English?” are also good to learn. In very populated areas, this may be all you really need, as more people will speak English, and signs may be printed in both English and the country's native language.
If you will need to know much more, you are better off learning pronunciation for the language instead of spending hours trying to memorize dozens of phrases. This will enable you to use a translation dictionary. These dictionaries are also great for translating signs that are not already translated for you. Be sure to get familiar with the dictionary before arriving at your destination to make it easier and faster to use. You should get a book about the culture of the country you are visiting, preferably one that lists phrases or gestures that are viewed as insults. For example, in Germany and Brazil, the “OK” gesture is insulting. That's something that you need to know before you land.
In most cases, it is possible to get by in a foreign country without knowing much of the language. Even linguistically challenged travelers can enjoy foreign countries by learning a few basics. Which is lucky for me, because I am about as challenged when it comes to learning languages as it can get.