It’s all fun and games when your playing charades with your friends, gesticulating wildly, laughing as you try to interpret what your teammates are trying to say. However, when you’re playing charades to order your dinner when your hungry or negotiate a place to sleep when your tired it no longer becomes a fun game. Trying to act out a lower price for a hotel room or ask for your food a little less spicy might look hilarious from the stance of a passerby, but it is typically frustrating rather than funny for those involved.
People who come to a new country as an adult, when language learning is a cumbersome process, can have particular difficulty overcoming the language barrier. In these cases, little communication occurs unless one or both parties learns a new language, which requires an investment of time and effort. Time is most likely a luxury that vacationers and travelers staying in places for just a few days don’t have. However a close cousin to time and effort is patience, which can be the best tool in your arsenal.
5 tips for breaking down the barrier
1. Speak slowly and cleary, using simple language. I don’t mean being condescending, talking louder or pronouncing words as if in slow motion. I am referring to a simple awareness of what you are saying and not shortening your words or using country specific slang that the listener will most likely not pick up on.
2. Have a pen and paper handy, or a calculator- writing down numbers when deciding on a price or even drawing a quick picture can easily bridge the gap between confusion and understanding. Even a cell phone can work for showing numbers when negotiating on price or just trying to understand what the other is saying.
3. Act it out, brush off your acting skills and play a little game of mime. Some basic pointing will always help with directions and I’m always impressed how the world over people understand a few basic gestures that can get you a long way, like motioning as if you are eating to find a place to eat or giving a thumbs up if you enjoyed the experience. My one disclaimer is that some cultures do have taboo gestures, so you want to be aware of that before you launch a full on game of charades to explain yourself
4. Try saying it a different way, this is painfully obvious, but sometimes when you’re trying to get a point across you can’t think of any other words then the ones you use everyday. For example no one knows what you are saying when you ask to use the restroom or bathroom, but everyone can point you to the nearest toilet.
5. Enlist help, ask another local nearby that might understand better or undestand some English. Ask another traveler to help you explain as they might think of other words that you would not have.
6. Get creative, one of the things that travel is best at teaching is out of the box thinking, as they say necessity is the mother of invention. When you have to get your point across you may have to come up with a completely new way of communicating. For example we found ourselves on a beach with no paper or calculator to communicate the price we were willing to pay, so we wrote in the sand and were both able to agree on a fair price for the boat.
If you employ these six simple tips not only will you get your point across more often, you will also improve your charades skills.