A common situation: An Australian sitting in a Japanese bar, twiddling their thumbs wondering how to order a drink when no one speaks English and the menu is in Hiragana. The only thing they know for sure is that they don’t sell Corona here. Unfortunately, this is a problem for those looking for a more authentic travel experience. Getting to know the country and the places off the beaten track. While many locals may speak a little English, there are less when you step out of the tourist zones, meaning navigating through will be harder. But let’s be honest, no one wants to spend their holiday memorising foreign sentence structure. So here are a few helpful tips for learning just enough of the local language for an amazing time.
Forget The Phone
Top tip: Restrain yourself from using your phone too much. Battery life is a valuable and finite resource when travelling. Battery is better used for taking an unhealthy number of photos of you and your friends with an elephant, or for Google maps when you get lost.
Everyone’s first instinct is to download a language learning app. However, it’s better to skip Duolingo for most trips. These apps will just bog you down with grammatical rules, stuff that isn’t needed when asking for a menu or the bathroom. You will really just use dictionary apps, and only for the basic phrases, the ‘thank you’ and ‘I would like’ types of sentences. Apps like the Codogent phrasebooks are free and easy to follow.
Have A Notebook Handy
Buy a little notebook and scribble the sentences and words you need inside. This is best for quick references, and physically writing helps you remember the words. Yes, as it turns out your high school teacher was right when insisting computers were detrimental to your learning, just this once.
Listen and sound out how you would pronounce words and sentences and write that down. This would again, help with recalling all those foreign vowels. It doesn’t matter if its not exact, the fundamental message will come across, even with an Aussie accent butchering the dialect.
Keep It Simple
Keep the vocabulary simple with key words that are bound to come in useful. These are good for basic sentences and directives.
- Thank you
The niceties – ‘you’re welcome’, ‘have a great day’ – are useful phrases to have in your pocket. Locals will generally be kinder to those who are bothered to be polite; and more resentful to the rude and may charge you more. It’s also good to make sure that you pick up the formal versions of phrases. In some European and Asian countries being too casual in your greetings can be interpreted as insulting (no one wants to be that brash bogan tourist).
List Specific Prompts
If you’ve done a bit of research or asked around and want to explore specific areas, then knowledge of more specific prompts is handy. Such as:
‘Where’ is especially good for asking for the places that your friends or the internet have recommended. Locals are usually happy to help, and can easily point out a direction (sign language being universal).
- Do you have…?
- Specific foods
Cuisine can be the best part of travelling. Countries like France are renownd for having a unique cheese and wine for every town, and the ‘hole-in-the-wall’ eateries in Japan have some of the best traditional food. Unfortunately, not understanding the language or what you’re ordering can be a daunting.
Menus with pictures are a saving grace, but those without are a challenge if you aren’t familiar with the dishes in the area. Ensure you have dietary requirements in your vocabulary, because of course someone in your group is going to insist on asking if there’s gluten or nuts in it.
For the more adventurous appetite, picking a quirky looking sentence is fun, but having words for food types like ‘salad’ available is a life-saver if you are dying for something green after a week of pasta and cheeses. But that’s the main theme. Adventure. Don’t be afraid to put yourself in an awkward situation for the sake of a great memory, even if you end up in a bar with six unrecognisable drinks.
Image source: Pinterest and Collage Vintage