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втрачено в перекладі: Lost in Translation

Utazás. 여행. Viajar. يسافر. Podróż. Cestovanie. Ταξίδι. Udhëtim. 旅行. Malaga. เที่ยว. Rejse.

Photo by Unsplash

To most of us, these words look like scribbles on a page. When we hear a foreign language, we often can’t tell where one word ends and another begins. While you might understand something here and there, for the most part, it’s incomprehensible.

Because of this, traveling to another country can be terrifying if you don’t speak the language.

When I first arrived in France, I was surrounded by unfamiliar food, confusing transportation systems, and new people speaking a language nothing like the one I learned on Duolingo. However, the people were kind and willing to help when I didn’t understand them. I was also blessed to find many English speakers.

But that doesn’t apply to speakers of every language.

Out of the world’s population, 1.5 billion people speak English, so English-speaking travelers can find someone who understands them in almost any part of the world.

But for those whose native language is spoken only in their country, it is hard to find people abroad with whom they can communicate.

Limited Opportunities

For example, only 13 million people speak Hungarian. This might sound like a lot of people, but that number reflects the total population of Hungary and its surrounding areas.

While I lived in Hungary, many people told me about the difficulties of speaking an uncommon language.

Some students wanted to leave Hungary because they were interested in certain degrees or career fields that weren’t a part of the country’s education system and economy. But they had no opportunities to become fluent in English or another common language. Wealthier parents would provide tutors and special schools to help their children learn English. But that wasn’t an option for everyone. So, many students had to give up on their dreams and choose different career paths.

Other students were content to stay in Hungary, preferring their home and traditions over foreign opportunities. However, they still had their own worries. They wanted to travel but feared potential communication barriers. Some students had traveled despite their fears and tried to speak through gestures while other students hired and invited translators to help them communicate. In both cases, they were often met with impatience and even animosity.

However, many students who didn’t speak a common language like English never left Hungary or its surrounding areas. Staying was easier.

Refugee Worries

But there are many people for whom leaving is not a choice. Some speakers of less common languages are forced to leave the comforts of their homes and the familiarity of their language. I personally saw this happen in 2022 when Russia invaded Ukraine. After the initial devastation, communication quickly became one of the most difficult barriers.

That summer, I worked with Ukrainian children who now had to attend Hungarian schools in the fall. I tried to help them learn Hungarian, but it was difficult. Most didn’t speak English, and I didn’t speak Ukrainian. Many fellow volunteers and I helped the best we could because the children wouldn’t succeed in school if they couldn’t speak. It was an eye-opening experience. Before that summer, I had never seen a communication barrier cause such devastating circumstances.

I have never been forced to leave my country. I can always find someone who speaks my language wherever I go. I likely won’t have to deal with life-changing communication barriers, but I can help those who will. While we can’t eliminate these barriers entirely, we can make them easier to navigate.

Ways to Make a Difference

When visiting a foreign country, there are a million travel tips for visitors on how to get around: Ask for help. Be calm and patient. Try hand gestures.

But what if we followed a reverse set of guidelines on how you can guide visitors in your native country?

1. Offer help.

If you see someone who looks lost, don’t turn a blind eye, because if you’re hesitant to help, it’s likely that others are too. Be observant, and when you see someone in need, be quick to act.

2. Be calm and patient.

It can be frustrating speaking to someone who isn’t fluent when you’re used to speaking at a fast pace. But if someone is trying to say something, listen carefully and empathetically. If they mess up, help them. Kindness is a universal language.

3. Use hand gestures.

Expressions and body language can be a universal language. If someone doesn’t speak English, try to gesture, and encourage them to do the same. Often, attention and effort can overcome most communication barriers.

Even if you don’t speak someone’s language, you can connect with them in other ways. Language is a barrier we can overcome! Pay attention. Listen carefully. Notice your surroundings.

As you do, you’ll begin to understand new people, cultures, and traditions. Don’t limit yourself to same-language-speaking friends. Step outside of your comfort zone and become part of a multicultural world at home.