Language Barriers

Language is needed for any type of communication between human beings. Animals have a different way of communicating with humans but nonetheless, they still have a way of communicating with each other. Language helps people to express their feelings, thoughts and share their ideas with others around them and it also has the power to build and create societies. Travelling the world is on a lot of people’s bucket list, however, in order to travel the world, it is important that you are able to adapt and immerse yourself into different cultures. Part of this involves being able to communicate with the local people using their language and dialect – you don’t have to be fluent in their language just learning the important keywords would make a big difference. 

When people are unable to communicate with each other using a language, this is known as a ‘language barrier’ and they can cause many problems. For example, if you are visiting or living in a new country and you need medical treatment, you may not understand what the doctor or nurse is saying to you. If you are an international student and you don’t understand what your classmates are saying to you during group work, this will not only affect your studies but also the relationship you develop with your classmates. Similarly, if you are working abroad and do not understand the tasks you have been given or you don’t know what your colleagues are saying, this could cause problems with your management team. It is important to know what causes language barriers in order to tackle them. The three main causes of language barriers are:

Language Barriers

Regional Accents and Dialects

Regional accents and dialects are when people from a particular region or social class pronounce words of a language in a distinctive way. In Ireland, every county has a distinct accent and dialect, and in the county Dublin alone, there are multiple different accents and dialects to try and understand – it really is no wonder that language barriers exist! Although the language is the same, the meaning and interpretations of words are different. Regional accents and dialects can be confusing when travelling to a new country so it is important to do some background research on the different types of accents that exist in the country. 

Use of Jargon or Slang 

Jargon is a specialised language that is used by people in the same profession and it is generally very difficult to understand. Slang is an extremely informal language and it is generally used in the spoken language rather than the written language. Slang words are very common and they can cause a lot of confusion for people who are not familiar with the language. An example of an Irish slang word is ‘gas’. In the English language, the word ‘gas’ is defined as a fluid that has neither independent shape nor volume but tends to expand indefinitely. In Ireland, the word ‘gas’ is a slang word for funny. Jargon and slang is something to look out for when travelling.

Grammar and Spelling 

Grammar and spelling are one of the main causes of language barriers in written communications. If you send or receive an email with grammar errors and spelling mistakes, it is likely that the receiver will not understand it or will interpret the email in a different way than is intended. If you are travelling to a country and you do not know the spelling of a word, it is important that you look up the spelling online or in a dictionary before you send any sort of written communication. If you receive an email or a text message and you notice a spelling or grammar error, make sure you ask the sender to clarify what they mean.

Language Barriers

Top Five Tips on How to Overcome Language Barriers When Travelling or Moving to a New Country

Although language barriers can cause problems when you are travelling or moving to a new country, there are many ways that they can be overcome. My top tips to overcome  language barriers are

1. Learn Keywords and Phrases

Learning keywords and phrases that are common in the country that you are visiting or moving to. It not only shows that you are putting in the effort to connect with local people and that you are polite but it could help you if, for example, you get lost somewhere, you need to get to somewhere or if you are receiving medical treatment which is really important. A list of words that I would learn in any language are:

  • Hello
  • Goodbye
  • Please
  • Thank you
  • Do you speak English? 

2. Simplify Sentences When You Want to Express Your Thoughts 

It is important to get into the habit of using plain language or simplifying the sentences you use when you want to express your thoughts in an unfamiliar country. So that the natives of the country you are visiting will be able to understand you better. Gestures can also help natives to understand your intent. For example, if you smile, they will know that you are saying something positive. 

3. Speak Slowly and Clearly

Speaking slowly and clearly is similar to simplifying your sentences – it will allow natives of the country you are visiting to understand what you are trying to say better, even if you are not pronouncing the words in their language correctly. Irish people are known to speak really fast which makes it difficult for visitors to understand the Irish accent (which is difficult to understand as it is). I would suggest you learn the term ‘slowly please’ in the language of the country you are visiting. This will help you to understand the native speakers better.

4. Write Down Every Word and Phrase That you Hear 

One piece of advice would be to always have a piece of paper and a pen with you when you are in a new country. If someone says a word or a phrase that you don’t understand, ask them to write it down. You can then look up what the word or phrase means later. If you see any word no matter how simple it may be write it down and look up what the word means. This is part of self-educating. 

Language Barriers

5. Be Friendly and Respectful 

Finally, when you are visiting or moving to a new country, being friendly and respectful goes a long way. If you are friendly to the local people, they will help you. Learning a new language is difficult so when you are speaking to local people, they may not understand you fully. It is important that you don’t get frustrated when they don’t understand you and respect that they are trying their best to help you will be important to remember. 

Don't stop here! If you would like to know more about language learning, you might also like "Juggling Two or More Latin Languages at Once" or if you want to get to know our Dublin team a bit better check out "SPEAK Dublin: Meet the three founders"! To see the original article click here.

Author: Vicki Browne

Vicki is currently studying a Masters Degree in Digital Marketing at the UCD Michael Smurfit Graduate Business School in Dublin, Ireland. She works as a Marketing Executive in an Irish tech startup company and loves anything to do with social media. She also loves to travel, make lots of delicious food at home and she is passionate about exercising and keeping fit!

Author: Jessica Milsom

Jess is a marketer at SPEAK. She is from England, Shanghai, The Netherlands, Taiwan, and now Portugal. But actually, don’t ask her where she is from, it’s a long story. She is a good listener, an open-minded communicator, and a fruitful debater. And her favourite pastime is watching k-pop music videos with a warm cup of tea.

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