If there is one thing to be nervous about, while traveling to places that English is so-not widely spoken, it would be getting the right message across. Nonetheless, many travelers would agree that despite the language barrier, one can get easily be understood if you travel with the correct attitude. In 2011, I went on a solo journey covering countries that are known to have strong culture foothold, which means I was in big trouble if I don't speak their language.
Thailand-Cambodia-Vietnam-China-Macau and Taiwan were among the countries visited in the journey. The Indo-China route would be the closest area to my country for a beginner's adventure. Out of all seven (7) countries visited, I had experience traveling to three, prior to the journey. Even so, the moment I arrived in Bangkok on the first day, I could sense little nervousness of myself. Tired yet still excited, there was little verbal action of myself while trying to find my way to Ayutthaya. After few days roaming around, the courage for verbal expression had slowly crept all over myself. This was in addition to the new kind of people exposure I encountered - meeting with other backpackers.
After I was done with the 2 months journey, I came to realize that in order to overcome the language barrier, a traveler must;
- Start your step with a positive attitude
- Stay and keep yourself alert of the surrounding
- Never run away from the existence of other people near-and-far of you
- Always believe that people are not all bad in nature
- Be brave to start a conversation (at least ask a question)
- Open yourself to learn 'their' culture
- Be resourceful while on the road
- Throw away the fear and shyness
- Always smile and relax your facial/ body muscles
- Have faith in yourself
Even when you are traveling with a buddy, never let yourself be too occupied with him/her. The adventure starts when you reach out to the others, especially the locals. Understanding a new culture does not require verbal ability alone. An effective communication in a cross-culture setting would be the non verbal communication. So many of travelers would agree that they found it more useful to use body language or sign language to get message across while going around in foreign territories.
At the end of the day, you would realize that it does not take that much effort than you originally thought. Simple hand gestures like below can make your traveling life easier (or perhaps harder?).