What is it like travelling to another country without speaking the language?
Hello and Konnichiwa to our Oxford Dictionaries blog readers. Today is World Tourism day, and we thought we’d ask our Twitter followers about some of their experiences with language whilst being a tourist. Needless to say, when you don’t speak the local language at all, some situations can be quite frightening, and funny…
We picked two of our favourite contributions and, coincidentally, both are in Japan. Up first is Brittany Vonow…
There’s nothing like travelling to another country where the people speak another language to make you feel adventurous.
There’s also nothing quite like it to make you feel quite so stupid – even when you are simply using a toilet.
It was on my trip to Japan, my first overseas, that I discovered this love of adventure – a feeling that led me to use one of the famed high-tech Japanese toilets.
So after conducting my business, I decided to give some of the buttons a go.
Who needs to understand Japanese to use a toilet?
At first it was a success as I pressed the first button with a fine mist settling on my bottom.
Great, I thought, let’s try another one.
As soon as I pressed the button, clearly marked in a language I could not understand, I realised my mistake.
A violent, pulsating stream of water hit me, quickly soaking my cheeks.
Minutes passed – how could I stop this? Which button said “stop”?
I tried waiting it out but as the water began to soak my pants and rogue water drops began to cover the bathroom, I realised I had to move.
It was then that I realised that in between pressing the buttons, the water streams would hesitate, giving me precious seconds to make my escape and avoid flooding the bathroom.
Pressing a button and feeling the spout pause, I jumped from the toilet, slammed down the seat and made my escape.
Minutes later I was back in my room, shorts hanging up to dry, pouring through my Japanese dictionary to find the translation for STOP.
Maybe I would have better luck next time.
Next we have Nora Vasconcelos from Travelling Book Club.
It may be because it is common to communicate in English while traveling that we do it with a sense of security. But, in my personal experience, not having at least some knowledge of the local language is truly limiting.
For me, the most challenging trip has been when I went to Japan for a summer holiday. Luckily, I had friends there to show me around, but I learned quickly that Japanese was something else. I really needed their assistance, from asking them to translate the directions to the facilities, to having no clue what was in the food on the menu and having to order by pointing.
The second situation that made me feel uncomfortable was looking at the names of the stations while travelling by subway, all of them written in characters I was unable to compare to my maps – and, yes, I missed my stop as a result.
I am sure it was my survival instinct, but I very quickly started recognizing groups of sounds and what they meant, so after some days I was able to say ‘yes’ or ‘no’ when asked a question. That small step helped me regain my sense of independence, and thanks to that, I discovered how magnificent Japan is.
My “language graduation” was when I spent two complete days, all by myself, travelling by bus and train and reaching the airport with the time to spare for me to realize that I was once again in a place I could speak English!
Have you ever had an interesting experience because of language barriers? If so, we’d love to hear from you.