“In a Tokyo hotel: Is forbidden to steal hotel towels please. If you are not a person to do such thing is please not to read notis.” (sic)
“In a Copenhagen airline ticket office: We take your bags and send them in all directions.”
Lacuna.com head writer Matt Bramowicz shared these unintentionally funny translations in a June 2012 post. But while keeping a sense of humor while traveling is important, misusing the local language is no laughing matter when you can’t read street signs, don’t understand currency exchange instructions or need to ask your waiter if your entrée contains the peanuts you are highly allergic to (more on these specific problems in Part 2 of this blog).
It may not be realistic to become fluent in the language of the country to which you’re traveling, but there are several important situations to prepare for linguistically to make your trip easier, more engaging and safe.
Bramowicz’s top 17 necessary phrases begins with “Where is the best local beer?” But in the interest of a broader audience, here is a sampling of his other suggestions:
• Where is the bathroom?
• I’m lost. Can you give me directions?
• I don’t feel well. I have pain in…
• How long does the trip take?
• What time is it?
• Where is the train/bus station?
• How much will it cost to get to the airport?
• What is the exchange rate?
• Thank you.
After you compile your own list, you’ll need a good translation app; it’s best translate phrases you think you’ll need BEFORE you go, since international roaming charges can be excessive. The free Google Translate can translate text, speech, images and video from one language to another for Android and iOS; according to Wikipedia, “As of December 2015, Google Translate supports 90 languages at various level and serves over 200 million people daily.”
Other translation apps, as recommended in April 2015 by heavy.com’s Tucker Cummings include:
• SayHi Translate: “Offers translation support for over 100 languages, including country-specific dialects. The translations you produce can be shared via email, SMS, Facebook, or Twitter.”
• iTranslate: “This app is especially appealing for people who need Romanizations in their translations (aka transcribing the characters of another alphabet into Latin letters)…for people who need to read Chinese or Japanese characters, but are not familiar with the language at all.”
• Tap-Translate: “A translation tool for your mobile web browser. It can translate short phrases, paragraphs, or an entire page. You can also hear the translated word pronounced, in addition to seeing the translation on the screen.”
• Translate Professional: “No Internet connection is required to access 300 of the professionally-translated phrases in the offline area of the app. … You can acquire 18 different voices for the app, which will enable you to hear what the translated phrases should sound like when spoken aloud. … useful for people who are traveling abroad, as they can use either the audio or on-screen translations to communicate with others.”
Ready to practice your phrases? On his website, TV traveling star Rick Steves helps in “Leaping over the Language Barrier” by recommending that you, “Speak slowly, clearly, and with carefully chosen words; can the slang; keep your messages grunt-simple; (and) use internationally understood words.”
If all else fails and you need to reach out to the locals for help, Lynn Elmhirst’s “Travel Tips: Overcoming the Language Barrier” (2013) on travelbig.com advises travelers to memorize a few key phrases like, “‘Does anyone near here speak English?’ This way, you have a better chance of finding someone who can help you, even if the person you ask doesn’t know your language.”
She also advocates creating flashcards to tuck into your wallet or purse. “Draw images of a toilet, airplane, red cross and computer on the cards, and use them when and if you need to find a bathroom, airport, hospital or internet café,” she writes.
And if none of these work, find a hotel. “If there’s one place where you’re likely to find an English speaker, it’s at a hotel. In addition to asking the staff at your own hotel for help, keep in mind that if you are stuck out and about and need help, you can simply head to the nearest hotel for assistance.”
Enjoy the journey!