travel tips

Tips For Overcoming Language Barriers

Language barriers are hard to overcome but with these simple tips you will find yourself speaking and comprehending in no time!

Posted by Judson L Moore

There is no such thing as an “easy Language” to learn. After all, a language is an inherently huge thing. That said, there are a lot of things you can do to quickly overcome language barriers and rapidly ascend to fluency.

Common Tricks for Overcoming Language Barriers

There are some simple self-study activities most people try when studying a language. Flashcards are easy to make and are a great way to study vocabulary by yourself or with a friend. I use sticky notes to label everything at home with its definition in the language I am studying. Devices like your cell phone, computer, and TV have language settings which you can configure to give you that next level of exposure. Taking a group or individual lesson is also fantastic but can be very expensive, which is why I usually utilize eLearning apps. My favorite eLearning app for language is Duolingo (iOS Android).

If you are already in the country where the new language is spoken, you will find yourself automatically acting out a real-world game of Charades. This can help you get what you need right now, and people might tell you the word to stuff you point at, but it is difficult to remember words you are told in the heat of the moment. That is why I came up with this list of tips and tricks I use to overcome language barriers around the world.

Write It Down

Keep a notebook nearby or use a notes app on your mobile device. Every time you hear or read a word that you want to learn, write it down to a list that you can come back to later. Also write down English words that you think you should prioritize learning in the new language so that when you are studying later you already have a pool of practical words for you to start with. You will be amazed at how many times a day you contribute to this list and and you will be very thankful that you have it later on.

Read Everything

Reading is very critical in learning. When I say to, “read everything,” I am not talking just about books and printed material. You will find a lot of learning can be done while walking down the street, sitting on a train, or watching TV with captions. Make an effort to read every sign, headline, and bold word that stands out from the crowd. Though you might not understand everything you read today, you are working to build a vocabulary which will make more sense tomorrow when you pair those words with a meaning.

This is useful regardless of the language you are studying. If you are studying a language which uses a different written alphabet than your own, this makes great practice for stringing together all the sounds that go with the new alphabet you are learning. Vocabulary memorization can be very tiresome and headache-inducing, but when you use this approach, you will see that it is fun to learn the words which you see around you every day.

Search for Cognates (but beware!)

Many languages share common words which can give you a head start communicating with others. When I lived in Kyrgyzstan, I joked that every item invented since the pencil was a cognate from English. As an example, here is a list of 1001 Spanish words you may already know. Impressive right? You already speak survival Spanish without any effort!

Beware of false cognates. These are words which sound like a word in your language, but which has a different meaning in the other language. Here are a couple of funny false cognates in French.

Listen… Uncomfortably

Learning a language is a great time to practice your active listening skills. You can listen to the radio, TV, podcasts, other people, and any number of other sources.

I recently moved to Germany and one of the most important things for me is to spend time with my German friends. If we are in a group, I strongly discourage them from speaking English. Sometimes they start speaking about things with which I have no context, poor vocabulary, or I can’t keep up with the speed. In these times, I just quietly sit back and try to hang on for the ride as best I can. It can get uncomfortable when conversations go on for a long time without being able to keep up, but this is still valuable exposure.

Just like reading every sign in the street, listening may not always feel like much now, but these spoken words will absolutely pile up in your unconscious vocabulary and will be easier to recall later when you learn their meaning. Bonus skill: listening also improves your understanding of proper pronunciation!

Butcher the Grammar

Do not let the complexities of grammar keep you from making an effort. Use the best grammar you can, but at the end of the day, just put the words down and speak them out loud. People will often understand what you mean and hopefully, from time to time they will also correct you and help you understand the most proper way. I make plenty of grammar mistakes that no one cares about, and other mistakes that people find hilarious. Don’t take offense to any laughter. Just remember, they are laughing with you, not at you.

Another helpful tactic is to learn shortcuts. For example, In German, there are three articles for nouns (der, die, das) which correspond to the gender of the noun. Remembering which one to use with every word is way too hard and time-consuming, so I basically just use “der” for everything singular, and “die” for everything plural. It is correct often enough, and when wrong, everyone knows what I am getting at, which is all that matters.

Have Fun!

Regardless of why you are learning a language, fun must be part of it. Try not to take yourself too seriously while getting accustomed to this new challenge. With time, you will be telling jokes, laughing with others, and soon be everyone’s favorite person to bring to dinner and show off the foreigner’s funny speaking skills!

Have any of these tips worked for you? Please share your experience in overcoming language barriers in the comments below or get in touch with me at @judsonlmoore.

Judson L Moore
Judson L Moore

Travel addict. Ambitious about making the world a better place. Writing what I learn along the way.

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