Getting lost in translation while traveling

April 1, 2010

By Judy McEuen
Travel Writer
Troy Media

Judy McEuen
Judy McEuen

SAN FRANCISCO, CA, Apr. 1, 2010/ Troy Media/ — You’ll sometimes travel to places where your language is neither widely spoken nor understood. When such situations arise, you’ll be hard-pressed at getting what you want.

You may speak in syllables or the most basic of English words with a sprinkling of hand gestures to convey your message but it’ll not guarantee that you’ll get exactly what you had in mind. To avoid getting into unexpected and undesirable situations due to language barrier, it will help to know a few local words to help you get by.

Sometimes a single word works

Like most travelers, you may not have the time to learn the local language. But, you don’t have to know how to speak in local phrases or sentences. Most of the time, a single word is enough to deliver a point. It’s just a matter of knowing what words will help take you a long way to fully enjoying your destination.

Sometimes you just need to “go” even if you don’t want to. Finding the toilet in the unlikeliest of places will be close to impossible if you do not know the local word for it. Well, if you don’t mind acting out pulling down your pants and sitting on an imaginary toilet bowl, you just might pull it off.

Saying the word stop is another must-know if you will be riding local transportation. You may be used to bus stops or pressing a buzzer if you want to get off a bus, but you might not find the same luxury where you’re going. I can’t even imagine how you’ll act out saying stop. If you are unlucky, they might interpret your antics as a disturbance of the peace, which will make the nearest police station your likely stopover.

If you do not eat a common staple food, you better know its local name. Case in point is a good friend of mine. He went to South East Asia in a backpacking trip. He doesn’t eat pork and would not want to have anything to do with it. While in a restaurant, he keeps telling the waiter, “No pork.” After mulling over my friend’s order for a few minutes, the waiter replied, “Moo?” To which my friend answered with a double thumbs up “Moo, OK!” Guess what, moo in Thailand is the literal translation of pork! You can just imagine the ruckus this failure in translation caused.

Yes and no

You also want to learn how to say yes and no. Alright, you can always nod or shake your head. But these primitive head movements will only serve you if you are responding to a yes or no question. What if you want to give an instruction that involves the inclusion or exclusion of a particular thing. For example, you want to say no pork, no garlic, or no chilli . . . now you get the point!

What better way to experience a foreign city’s culture than through its locals? You can easily win them over by saying thank you, excuse me and hello. Being polite and courteous might just win you a friend or two. So, learn a few words of your destination’s language because it’ll make traveling a lot easier and it just might save you from a few rough spots.

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