Help with research - language barrier
Replies: 9 - Last Post: Mar 10, 2013 9:28 AM Last Post By: malvolio
Mar 6, 2013 8:29 AM
Help with research - language barrierHi,
I'm just doing some preliminary research on barriers that exist while traveling in countries where there is a different language. On RTW trips, it is almost impossible to learn a new language every couple of weeks to try to survive. I, myself have ended up playing charades, talking slower in my language (because that makes it better...) or even just repeating the one or two words I do know until I find out the information needed.
The most common places I have found this is when lost in a new city needing directions or looking at a menu and figuring out the type of meat (mostly leading to me making animal sounds, oink, moo, cockle-doodle-do).
My problem is I need a big list of things that people have trouble with in countries all over the world, in all languages.
If you have any experiences where this has happened to you and would like to share them, I would appreciate a couple words/minutes of your time.
Thanks in advance
Mar 6, 2013 8:47 AM
1In the Third World, it just isn't a problem. No one in, say, Cambodia is under the illusion that many people speak or read Khmer. Anyone who has a job where they interact with tourists learns English.
My own practice is just to learn the courtesy phrases, "Hello", "Thank you", and so forth, and rely on their English for everything else.
I've been in dozens of countries, and there are only two with a language barrier: France, where they pretend not to speak English, and Japan, where they actually don't. France is just being France, but what the heck, Japan? I was at a fancy hotel in Tokyo and the concierge didn't speak English! What were you hoping the guests would speak? If I were from around here, I'd sleep at my house.
Always get a business card from your hotel. Worst case scenario, get in a taxi and show him the card.
In many countries, if a restaurant has a menu, that restaurant caters to tourists, and you don't want to eat at restaurants that caters to tourists. It's over-priced, and you can have that food at home. Find a restaurant that's crowded with locals, especially working people who have to eat away from home a lot, like taxi drivers and messengers, and order by pointing to plates on neighboring tables.
If you're on a restricted diet, have someone who speaks the language write up the restrictions on a small card and have it laminated. This isn't a problem if you're a vegetarian, since vegetarian restaurants are almost as common as McDonalds in South-east Asia, but if you've got some sort of hokey First-World complaint like gluten-intolerance, it's best to get it in writing.
Mar 6, 2013 10:23 AM
Animals don't make the same "sounds" everywhere. For example in Thailand a (male) chicken says "eggy-egg-egg" while in Germany they say "kikerikii" and in France I think they say "cocorico". Go figure. Anyway, it's probably more practical to read the English translation menu available in most tourist places than to emit these sounds in the restaurant (but it might be entertaining!)
One of many examples how cultural assumptions can get in the way more than simple translation
Mar 6, 2013 6:29 PM
3In recent years I've lived in both Korea and Taiwan (I'm in the latter country now). Both countries present considerable challenges due to their very unfamiliar languages.
Eating out can definitely be a problem. A high standard of living in both places means there are lots of restaurants (with menus) ..... but low levels of tourism means that few menus are in English. Especially in Korea, most people don't speak any English at all. This is particularly noticeable in small towns and in the provinces, but even in Seoul it's surprising how difficult it can be to communicate with people.
Luckily, Korean script is easy and straightforward to learn, so restaurant menus quickly become navigable. If not translatable in precise detail, definitely enough to recognise the basic components of dishes on the menu eg. chicken, beef, fish.
Directing taxi drivers is always an interesting challenge because for some reason, when the driver sees you're a foreigner, he seems to decide that there's no way he will be able to understand you, whatever you say. So a comical situation develops where you state your destination, in Korean, and he stares at you blankly. You try a number of times with slightly differing intonations and pronunciations. Still nothing. Then he calls a friend who speaks a tiny bit of English. The friend understands you and relays the message to the driver. A light dawns in the driver's eyes and he then repeats your words in what sounds like EXACTLY the same pronunciation and intonation that you just told him a dozen times.
Taiwan uses traditional Chinese characters and I haven't got to grips with that many of them yet, so restaurant menus are still a considerable challenge. Taiwan has many self-order restaurants where you tick the items you want on a list, and give the list to the waiter to take to the kitchen. The lists are invariably all in Chinese and pretty much indecipherable, so eating at these kinds of restaurants is very hard. A few places have pictures of the food in their menus, which helps, as does pointing at whatever someone nearby is eating and miming that you'll have what they're having. This is risky for anyone with dietary restrictions.
Not many places have English menus, but a fair number of people in Taiwan - including waiters - speak at least a little bit of English.
Street names are in Chinese and English, but the English spellings are very variable and it's often difficult to find a particular street on Google maps because the spelling differs from the actual street signs.
As already mentioned, anywhere with a decent tourist infrastructure is much easier to cope with because many people will speak English, and menus etc. have English translations. It is also easier to cope in places with Latin languages eg. Italy, Portugal, because even if you don't speak the language, you can have an educated guess at what menu items are because of the similarity to English.
Mar 7, 2013 12:00 AM
4I'm working on a similar project. The main difference is I'm building the smallest possible list of words. No phrases, just words that can be assembled, e.g. 'where' + 'bus' or 'where' + 'bus station', etc. For each word I'll find a simple image, then load the word and image into Anki, a free electronic flashcard app. Then when I need to communicate I search for the word in English then show the picture to someone.
Been testing it in Thailand where I live with better results than using the Google translate app. Somebody should make a picture dictionary app with the 2000 most common words. I'd buy it.
There are drawbacks to this approach. First is cultural specific images, e.g. using a picture of a double decker modern bus in a country where most of the buses are Toyota mini vans. Some concepts are difficult if not impossible to find or make an image of, e.g. verbs.
Do you mean the things where communication fails after trying English, charades and translate app?
Mar 7, 2013 6:12 PM
5There is a booklet with very useful pictures to point at. It is published in Germany or Austria. So what little text there is, mainly the index, is in German. But that does not matter much, just flip through the pages unti you find what you are looking for. Ohne Wörter means 'Without words'.
Here it is on German Amazon; Ohne Wörter
It may well be available on your countries Amazon as well. I know it is sold at a Swedish online bookstore. Found out only after I had bought mine from Germany. Anyway it does not cost much.
I took pictures of all the pages with my smartphone and now have them in there for easy access and magnifying when needed.
Mar 7, 2013 6:17 PM
Mar 9, 2013 4:11 AM
Mar 9, 2013 4:21 AM
The sound a domestic cat makes is the same anywhere. What differs is the written and spoken representation of that sound. For example, if I say the word 'meow' to a Thai who speaks no English, he doesn't know what I mean. If he says the Thai word for that same cat sound I don't know what he means. But if either of us imitates the the sound of a cat we understand each other.
Mar 10, 2013 9:28 AM
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