6 Ways To Push Past The Language Barrier On Holiday

By Hannah Wright
August 9, 2021

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Sun, sea, sand… what about smiling, small talk and saying thank you! After such a long break from travelling abroad, have you forgotten how it all works? Of course it would be great if we had time to learn a new language and brush up on the local culture of the next pin you’re putting on the map - but life tends to get in the way of that doesn’t it? Luckily, there are a few simple tricks you can put into practice straight away. If you’re feeling a bit rusty when it comes to communicating abroad, read our blog for six tips on how to be charming on holiday.

1. Make small talk


Let’s face it, many of us don’t have any intention of travelling abroad for a while. Luckily for us though, we’ve got the bucolic British countryside and charming coastlines to satisfy our holiday needs until we’re ready to embark on a plane. From Cornwall to Cumbria, Snowdonia to the Scottish Highlands, us Brits have a certain way of making fertile soil and building receptivity when we travel, and it’s all about small talk! This comes more naturally for some than others though, and there are a few techniques you can work on to improve your basic conversational abilities.

Making someone feel important is one of the most effective ways of building a connection. People love to be noticed, and you can do this in so many ways on holiday - from simply asking how someone is, to complimenting their outfit or hairstyle - let the endorphins hit! Be aware that some cultures may not be accustomed to engaging in small talk, so it’s worth doing a bit of research before you go.

2. Use body language


Back to the basics! If you’re abroad and there’s a language barrier between you and the waiter, bus driver, hotel receptionist or whoever you’re engaging with, body language is a real saviour - it’s all about posture, facial expressions and most of all hand gestures. Whether it’s pointing at something on the menu or counting on your fingers to understand how much something is, illustrative reinforcements are natural instincts that show us how simple communication can be. It’s an amazing feeling to interact with someone without words - it gives you a whole new perspective of them and their patience radiates.

Don’t forget that in some countries, body language is used in different ways. In Italy and Spain, it’s very normal for your hands to aid what you're saying. Try this and be uninhibited and exuberant rather than self-conscious. Personal bubbles aren’t so important there either, so don’t worry if people get closer than you’re used to - it’s just their way of communicating. Meanwhile in Greece, they tilt their head to the side to say yes. These little cultural nuances are what make every country and its people totally unique.

3. Make eye contact


It is said that the eyes are the window to the soul, therefore if you don’t use them to communicate, it can severely restrict the process. Making eye contact tells the recipient that you’re sure of yourself and that they are the sole focus of your attention. If the listener looks away, the speaker can lose confidence, as they assume they are not interested. Keep your eyes alert - open them wider if you hear something particularly interesting or surprising. Try opening your eyes really wide and notice how your eyebrows will automatically rise up with them - this shows excitement and wonder. Don’t allow your eyes to become vacant or stare into the middle distance. It may sound obvious, but you’d be surprised how instantly the speaker can tell when you’re not switched on to what they’re saying.

Be careful of this in some cultures though - eye contact is less common in Japan, they consider it awkward and prefer to be more reserved.

4. Speak slowly


These may seem like an obvious one but we’re all capable of forgetting it! Even if English is the common language, it’s important to speak slowly and clearly, giving your listener time to digest your words. When you greet someone, take extra care not to hit the fast-forward button once you’ve made an initial introduction. Speak calmly and pronounce each word, but not in a way that it might be patronising or impatient.

Watch this video for more tips on how to speak slowly:

5. Practice active listening

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Active listening is a great way to improve cross-cultural communication. When someone actively listens, they are giving lots of non-verbal signals that they are interested in what the speaker is saying - eye contact, open body language and small filler sounds are all part of this. This is particularly important when there’s a language barrier and you can go one step further - to ensure that you have understood everything properly, restate or paraphrase what they are saying. This not only avoids misunderstandings, but builds rapport and lets the listener know that you are engaged. It also encourages the other person to open up more on the topic.

For three tips on active listening, watch this short video:

6. Smile!


Sometimes when we greet someone from a different country, we freak out and don’t know what is culturally acceptable - do we go for the handshake, a hug, a kiss, two kisses, four kisses?! The French take this to a whole new level, with the kissing rules changing depending on gender and even which region of France you’re in! This can easily be avoided by a quick Google search before you go, and you’ll be guaranteed to impress if you know what the norm is. If all else fails though, a smile goes down a treat in pretty much every country! Research shows that it’s very difficult to frown when looking at someone who smiles - as the old cliché goes, it can light up a room. Smiling not only has the power to elevate your mood, but it can also change the moods of others and make the whole situation happier.

Read our blog about why smiling is your superpower.


Ultimately, although communicating with new people on your travels can be daunting, it’s also an exciting opportunity to challenge your creativity. Most people appreciate any attempt to authentically connect with them, and often it sparks those special connections where you exceed language barriers and enjoy a shared faith in humanity. 

If you want to sharpen up your effective communication skills, book a FREE 15-minute Discovery Call to find out more about how we can tailor our proven methodology to suit your budget and needs. 

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