Black Travelers Describe Overcoming Language Barriers On International Trips

When Whitney Hodge traveled to Paris, France, she had no idea the language barrier she’d run into. Most locals she ran into did not speak English. The language barrier didn’t ruin her trip. However, it did teach her the importance of her pre-trip preparations for visiting a foreign country. 

Hodges, like many travelers, understands how it feels to travel internationally to places where English is not the first language. Some have even had experiences in destinations where English isn’t spoken at all. According to a study by Global Profiles, only 37 percent of Americans say they take the time to learn the basics of a language before traveling to a new country.

Despite the data, Hodges and other Black travelers believe learning the basics is the bare minimum when traveling internationally.

Do Your Research Before Your Trip

When Hodges traveled to Paris, it helped that she’d done a little research before her trip. She’d downloaded the DeepL app for direct translation. She also was able to rely on some of her co-workers who spoke French. 

Hodges noticed many locals were more willing to help her when she attempted to speak their native language. Instead of assuming they spoke English, Hodges made every effort to communicate in French and was able to find her way around with help from the locals. 

“Know the basics before going there because they will be more inclined to help you if you speak their language, is what I’ve found,” Hodges said.

Learn The Basics

Black travelers say learning the basics of a language is a must before traveling to an international destination. Nya Fuentes, 31, described it as “proper travel etiquette.” This helped her when she traveled to Taiwan and Thailand in 2019, especially in areas where locals were accustomed to dealing with American tourists. 

“A lot of people come in contact with tourists so they pick up things along the way,” Fuentes said. “But also the way different cultures hear different things may also change how they dictate as well. So that was a huge language barrier in Asia.”

Hodges agrees that travelers should learn the basics before their trip. This includes pleasantries like “Thank you” and “Please”, as well as phrases for ordering at restaurants, asking directions, and finding the restroom. 

Despite preparation, Fuentes still found herself acting out certain phrases when trying to communicate beyond basic phrases. This is where things like Google Translate came in handy.

Traveler and entrepreneur Edward Thornton advises all travelers to keep their phones charged when traveling abroad. When he traveled to France, he struggled to communicate with the locals. However, Google Translate and reading body language helped him get by. He also is fluent in Spanish and ran into other Spanish speakers while in France.

Join Online Travel Groups Beforehand

For travelers who want to be even more prepared, Hodges advises joining a few Facebook travel communities before your trip. These groups can range from folks who have traveled solo to international destinations, digital nomads, or Black expat groups. Hodges said this allows travelers to get questions answered about language barriers to overcome. It’s also a great resource for where to go, excursions, and safety as a Black traveler.

“They’ll definitely give you tips on how to say certain things,” she said. “That helped me a lot before my trip to Spain.”

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