I am finding that there is a fear of using language to communicate when travelling. My experiences tell me that many people do not speak when encountering a stranger in a foreign country. This seems to be true for the would-be listener as well as the would-be communicator.
A Lack of Understanding
The fear is that the person wanting to speak will not be understood and that the listener will not be able to comprehend. So, silence reigns. The solution is for one of the parties to break the ice in order to find out what language can be used for communication. Either verbal communication will work or it won’t.
This has been evident to me when walking down the street and encountering a passerby. No one speaks. There seems to be a certain rudeness to this. I am as guilty as the other person. It’s easier to say nothing than to be rebuffed. However, this is a lost opportunity that may in fact prove to have been a positive surprise.
In my own travels, a fear of using language to communicate has occurred for several reasons. There is the unfortunate perception of class difference. I have skirted the issue with indigenous people who I know or assume have their own language and may not be able to speak to me. This can occur with native people also who are not indigenous. The issue can be that of an expat being resented for intruding on another’s culture. The reasons may be many.
To My Surprise
I have been pleasantly surprised at how often English works with strangers. As I mentioned in my last post, when I was lost, I found that I could use English with younger people to ask for directions and that older people could not help me. As a neighbor recently told me, English is taught in the German school system and that most people below the age of 35 likely speak my language.
I think this is true of other countries as well. The most common languages in the world are English, Mandarin, and Spanish. However, relying solely on English is a cop out. Every traveler should attempt to learn at least a second language, especially if spending a large amount of time in a particular culture. It is important to know simple words for greetings, locating destinations, saying thank you, you’re welcome, excuse me, and I’m sorry.
Using Non-Verbal Communication
Non-verbal communication can also work well. In my recent experience with older Germans, I found that I could sometimes get help by naming a store or place and pointing in one direction or another. You might get help by raising your shoulders and holding your hands up. A general confused demeaner may bring results.
Ultimately, don’t let a fear of using langue to communicate stop you from proceeding. You may gain a lot by trying a little.
Fact: Xenoglossophobia is literally the fear of speaking and foreign languages, a language learning phobia
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