5 tips to help your communication abroad

Check out the 5 tips that can help you learn how to communicate abroad

Being in a new country can be a challenge. Being unfamiliar with the new environment will rise many questions, such as: where to go to the bathroom, best restaurants to eat and directions to your destinations.

Sometimes, language and culture can be a barrier when it comes to effective communication. So here are some tips on how to communicate abroad.

1 – Study the culture

Each country is different when it comes to manners and etiquette. While some countries prefer to ask someone how their day is going, others may want you to get straight to the point and ask your question right away.

If possible, do some research to find out how to approach someone properly before you travel.

The people from the country will appreciate your effort to learn about their culture and this will help to bridge the gap between cultural barriers.

2 – Learn the most common questions

“How are you?”, “where is the bathroom?” and “what bus or train should I take to get to this destination?” are common questions that you may need to ask when you are abroad.

Learn how to ask these questions in the mother tongue of the country you are visiting to help break down language barriers.

3 – Plan activities in advance

Taking advantage of tip number two, it is useful to know which questions you will need to ask frequently if you plan your trip in advance.

Plan how you will get around, for example: is it by bus, train or taxi? Find out which destinations you may need directions to. Decide how you will get food, among others.

Also plan to have a good GPS.

You will spend less time asking for directions if you have a good updated street map or global positioning system (GPS). The simplified maps that you can find in a hotel are generally not suitable. When planning your trip, check in advance that the countries you plan to visit have mapping data available for your GPS device.

4 – Learn how to say you don’t speak the native language

Telling people that you are not fluent in their language can help when they answer your questions.

If people hear you ask a question in the native language of the country, they can assume that you speak the language fluently and respond by speaking rather than making hand gestures and other methods to help you understand.

Learning how to say you don’t speak the native language can help to avoid unnecessary confusion. 

5 – Use translation apps 

Language translation apps, like Google translate, are great for asking questions right away. Google Translate offers translations for over 80 different languages and has many resources to help you on your journey.

The app can translate signs and documents, save common sentences and store languages offline in case you have a bad connection.

Also rely on body language to help you

Body language is an important tool when you are learning how to communicate abroad.

For example, when you enter a restaurant and can’t read the menu, look for pictures or a showcase to point out the food you’d like to eat, or even check what’s being served at the next table – if it looks good, you can order the same thing.

If you wish, you can carry some basic symbols with you and point them out when you meet someone as a way to ask a question. For example, showing a person the image or symbol of a bathroom would be a great way to get that person to direct you to the nearest bathroom.

Smiles, nods and shrugs can also help you convey your message, but be careful when using gestures in different parts of the world.

You should be aware that some gestures can have different meanings around the world. For example, the thumbs up, which means approval in many countries, is considered rude and offensive in some places in Latin America, West Africa, Iraq, Iran and Afghanistan.

See other attention points

Eye contact

Even general body language patterns can have different meanings depending on where you are. For example, eye contact is different in China and the United States.

In the US, people often see direct eye contact as a sign that you are paying attention and that you respect the person you are looking at. However, in China, people regard the same level of eye contact as an aggressive and challenging attitude. 

Physical touch

The physical touch is also seen differently depending on the country you are in. Latin American or Arabic cultures, for instance, value personal contact. Physical touch is a big part of interpersonal communication.

In the meantime, a simple handshake, for example, can be taboo in some cultures where people prefer to bow rather than shake hands.


Proximity is related to physical touch, that is, how people get close to each other in different social environments. Different countries have different unwritten rules about how close you get to someone when you speak to that person or stand beside them on public transportation.

In Japan, for example, it is normal for people to stay very close on a train. However, it would be unusual to speak to someone extremely close to the person. The Japanese may see the latter as a sign of aggression.

So, before visiting a country where you don’t know the language, try and learn how they communicate without words too. How and where you are, the gestures and signals you make with your hands and where you look can have an impact on how you are seen.

No matter where you are, try to avoid gestures and sudden movements. They probably won’t be well seen and can make you look like a threat.

An exciting adventure

Traveling without knowing exactly how to communicate abroad does not have to be a headache. It can actually be a pretty exciting experience.

If you use our tips and pay attention to your body language, you will be surprised at how much fun you will have abroad.

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