Breaking Through the Language Barrier

When you travel, do you think about the other languages you will hear? Do you assume everyone will speak your language? How do you break through the language barrier when you don’t speak the language of the country you are planning to visit?

I have never assumed that everyone will know how to speak English even with it being the universal language. You can’t make assumptions like that because quite frankly it makes you come across as rude and condescending to the people whose country you are visiting.

In order to break through the language barrier that separates you and those who do not speak English; it’s always good to know some phrases in that person’s language. It shows them that you are attempting to speak to them in their language; not your own. It shows them that you are not like everyone else that comes to visit their city. You stand out. You show consideration. You show that you are willing to try. That is all anyone asks for when breaking through the barriers that separate us. For us to try to be part of the culture, part of the country we are visiting.

We aren’t in Kansas anymore. We are far away from home. We are basically in someone else’s home and we would want them to treat us as they would treat their own countrymen. With knowing that we are trying.

That is how you break through the language barrier.

Here are some words and phrases you should know or attempt to try to speak when you are traveling.

English, Language


  • Do you speak English? — Parlez-vous anglais
  • Hello — Bonjour
  • Goodbye — Au revoir


  • Do you speak English? — Parla inglese
  • Hello — Ciao, Buon Giorno, Pronto
  • Goodbye — Arrivederci, Saluto, Addio

I included a couple different ways to say hello and goodbye in Italian since it depends on how you are saying it. Some words are meant to attract attention such as pronto and other times it is meant as a more formal greeting like saying buon giorno.

It would help to even know a few words when you stop at a place to eat. For instance when I had lunch in Paris I asked for the poulet which translates to chicken in English.

I feel that the people I came into contact with when traveling appreciated my effort of attempting to speak their language. I may have botched up some of the words but at least I tried. That is all anyone can do.

Always remember to bring a phrasebook with you or download a translator on your smart phone to use when traveling. I used to bring a phrasebook with me until I got a smart phone. Now traveling is made easier since I have a translator downloaded on my phone. It helps me figure out how to say certain words in each of the countries I visit. Make sure whichever translator app you download will cover all the countries you are visiting.

Many of the places I have visited during my travels have shown me that I really should have tried to learn a language when attending college. The only language I can speak is English. I can’t count the snippets of phrases I have learned along the way as knowing another language. That doesn’t count since I do not know them through and through. That is why I am always in awe of people from other countries that know their native language along with knowing English.

Here are a few instances where I was grappling with the language spoken in another country in order to break through the barrier.

  1. Speaking to a Frenchman in a bar in Paris where he spoke very little English and I spoke very little French. We somehow managed to talk while we were standing at the bar waiting to be served.
  2. In trying to find our way to the Spanish Steps in Rome when we needed to find the restroom facilities. My phrasebook came in handy that day when I was able to ask for the nearest toilet as well as asking how to get to the Spanish Steps. I became the tour guide in this instance instead of being the one who was following others to get to where we wanted to go. It was exhilarating attempting to speak in Italian and the other person understanding what I was trying to say and pointing me in the right direction.
  3. I was at the train station in Krakow attempting to purchase a ticket to Zdunska Wola. This was the first time where the person I was speaking to didn’t know any English and I didn’t know any Polish. The attendant was an older woman, which come to find out, showed that English is not the universal language for everyone. I think that was something that was taught more to the younger people in this generation and not so much to the older generation who kept to their native language. Luckily, the person behind me spoke Polish and was able to help me explain to the attendant where I wanted to go and off I went with ticket in hand ready to head to my next destination.
  4. Seeing that you can’t hide behind your language when a homeless person approached me in Krakow. He started speaking to me in Polish and I replied that I didn’t understand him. Then he changed his tactic and started speaking to me in English.
  5. In traveling, I must look like I am not from that particular country when store clerks would start speaking to me in English before I would say one word to them. Then I would proceed to say hello or good morning in their language to let them know I was trying to speak to them in their language without assuming they would know mine.

What have you done to try to break through the language barrier when traveling? Have you attempted to learn a few phrases to get you through each country you visited? Do you know any other language other than English that you speak fluently that helps you out? I would love to hear what you have done to break down these barriers.