We should be super thankful for how easy it is nowadays to talk to people from all over the world. The downside, though, is that we’re more likely to come across language barriers in our everyday lives. It can be a real problem when you need help but don’t speak the same language as the person you’re trying to communicate with. It’s also kind of annoying when people don’t get the subtle message you’re trying to convey. Anyway, in this globalized world, we should all get used to crossing linguistic boundaries. Not every problem has a clear solution, but here are some strategies to get a better perspective once you’ve overcome the language barrier.
First, try to learn a few basic expressions in the other person’s language. Even if you don’t know their language well, knowing some simple words can come in handy. It’s not just about being polite; don’t make the other person struggle to communicate with you just because of the language barrier. Avoid using slang or idioms. When we’re in an uncomfortable situation, like dealing with a difficult customer or having a boring date, we tend to use more idioms and slang than usual. It’s natural! But using idioms takes us away from the literal meaning of our words. Instead of saying, “That’s going to cost a fortune!” a native English speaker might use an idiom like, “That’s going to set you back a big coin!” It conveys the same idea, but in a subtle, endearing, and kind way. We often do this without realizing, especially in awkward social situations. But this habit won’t serve you well when communicating in a foreign language. Being direct is actually seen as a good thing for a change. So, if your tone is more aggressive than usual, that’s okay.
Keep your language simple. When talking to someone you don’t know, whether at work or on vacation, native English speakers tend to use complex grammar to sound polite. Instead of asking, “How soon can you write the report?” they might say, “Could the report be completed as soon as possible?” But you should let go of cultural idioms and the desire to use complex grammar. If you want to break through the language barrier, you need to have the confidence to express exactly what you mean.
On the other hand, if you’re speaking a less common language and you find it hard to understand, don’t hesitate to ask the other person, “would you mind saying it again, please?”
Pay attention to your pronunciation. When you’re in a formal or awkward situation, try not to ramble. Speaking slowly and clearly will greatly improve the chances of the other person understanding you, especially if they’re not familiar with the language. Non-native speakers often find it easier to understand native speakers than those learning the language. Native speakers don’t even think twice about pronunciation when speaking their native tongue. If possible, slow down and avoid running words together. The language you use in a textbook is more welcoming and helpful to a learner than the language you use with your friends.
Try to be creative in expressing yourself. Sometimes, even simple sentences won’t break through the language barrier. If you and your conversation partner don’t have any words in common, you’ll have to get creative.