BY RAYMOND CALBAY
"Excuse me, may I ask where the nearest ATM is?" The local gives you a blank stare and shakes his head. Meanwhile you search your pockets and panic that you don't have any more cash to spare.
Whether you're a foreign worker or a tourist in another country, speaking in English is sometimes not enough to communicate with locals. People may not always be able to or hesitate to converse in English. What to do then as you struggle to get your message across? Here are three quick tips.
Learn common wordsIf you can't take formal classes yet to master the local language, do your homework and learn some common phrases that you can use in daily exchanges. Carry a pocket-sized dictionary or download a dictionary app on your smart phone. Then find short video tutorials on the Internet to get a sense of how the language is spoken. Start with these words: "hello", "please", and "thank you". Some helpful dialog to learn are for these common situations: ordering food, getting around in public transportation, buying items, and dealing with important life-savers such as banks and hospitals.
Google TranslateTrust Google to solve your online - and sometimes offline - problems. If you need instant linguistic support and you have Internet connection on your laptop or tablet, use Google Translate. Wonder of wonders, it presents your message in the foreign language's native characters as you type. You can then let someone read your translated message, say in traditional Mandarin. It works vice-versa too: you can ask the other person to type a reply that you can then translate into English. Voice translation is also supported, but it's still spotty at least for now. Moreover, you can download an app for your smart phone from Play Store to also convert text messages you receive in your preferred language.
Call a friend (or a friendly government service)Seek help from someone you know who speaks the language. But do this as a last resort - your friend or colleague might not always be available to attend to you. Consider too that some countries offer round-the-clock hotlines for foreign workers and tourists. Search the web or browse tourist brochures for such information beforehand. For example, here in Taiwan, the government provides call center services (0800-024-111) to assist foreigners. You can use it to seek help in facilitating conversations with locals.
The so-called language barrier is indeed very challenging to deal with. But realize too that you're not the only one struggling with words in an intercultural exchange. Be courteous when there's a failure to communicate. Remember that talk is always give-and-take. Shun any sense of entitlement: you're the foreigner and it's you who need to adjust. Just soak in the experience, and in time you'd pick up new words for learning.
Do you have more tips or foreign words to teach us? Share it on the comments below or join the conversation in Facebook.