How to Communicate across Different Cultures
While some languages are common across different countries—like English in Europe or Spanish in Latin America—it's not always possible to find someone with whom you can communicate directly. Even with common phrases and loanwords, there are still dialects and customs to navigate. To avoid being intimidated while you're traveling abroad, consider these tips for being an effective communicator in any language.
1. Read up on other cultures
At the local library or online are thousands of pages on cultures around the world. Take some time to read up on local customs, etiquette, conversation styles, common slang, and travel tips. The more educated you are about the place you visit, the more confident you'll be about staying there.
2. Use and read body language
When dealing with someone who doesn't speak the same language as you, it's important to remember that most cultures share similar forms of body language. If you can't find the right word, you can pantomime what you're trying to say through gestures and pointing. Of course, you should also do your research on common gestures in the country or region you're visiting. Depending on the context, even a simple gesture like pointing up with your finger can mean something completely different to your host culture.
3. Carry a pad of paper and a pen
To be a little more precise in getting your point across, you should also have some paper and a pen or pencil in hand. This can be ideal for when you need someone to draw you directions to a landmark or if you're trying to determine the price of something in a store or market.
4. Consider well-known brand names
The world nowadays is more globalized, meaning that some brands and words are just universally known. In some cases, dropping a common brand name like "Coca-Cola" or "iPhone" can make clear what it is you want. And some English words are just obvious like "OK" or "No."
5. Immerse yourself in the local environment
Even if you learn a lot from reading a textbook or travel guide, sometimes the best way to understand a new culture is to go out and explore on your own. Get lost in the crowd and listen to how everyone talks to each other. You'll soon discover the most common phrases and learn context for future discussions. You'll also come off as less of a tourist and more of a friendly traveler since you're showing that the new culture doesn't intimidate you.