Unfortunately, I was brought up speaking only one language. While you can find an array of English speakers around the world, there are still billions of people who don’t speak English at all. Chances are if you find yourself in another country where English isn’t the primary language, you will have to find some way to communicate. I’ve had my fair share of dealing with language barriers.
The more I travel, the more I learn about how important communication is and how that can connect you to people and culture. The world is becoming more globalized. There is more of a market then just in our own country. Smartling is a translation software program that helps companies bridge language barriers. It does the work of translating content. Technology is a certainly a useful tool to help you overcome language barriers, so don’t be afraid so speak.
It was my second to last day in China. I had been traveling for over two weeks with a family and sometimes on my own. For a majority of the trip, I was with someone who spoke Chinese. I was more confident about traveling and communicating in Chinese, although I had not had much practice. I was on the search for a place called Zhujiajiao. Wanting to save a bit of money, I decided not to take the tour bus from my hostel and instead go on my own. I had read a bit online about where the bus station was, so I took the train to closest to the bus stop. I walked around People’s Park looking for a sign that could possibly indicate where I wanted to go. Dictionary in hand, I proceeded to ask people where the bus stop was for Zhujiajiao. Even if I could get my point across, I could hardly understand the response I was given.
I then happened to ask a young woman where I could find the bus stop. She immediately began trying to help me. She pointed to a place in the city with a similar name. I had to tell her that it wasn’t in the city. I showed her the pinyin hoping she might read Zhujiajiao and recognize it. She had never heard of the place before. However, she continued asking people and eventually we were walking in the right direction. I followed along blindly, wishing I could read and understand a bit more Chinese. She had very limited English, probably about as much Chinese as I knew. Using her iPhone as a translator in combination with both of our limited vocabulary in each other’s languages we were able to communicate. (This was much faster than me looking up words in my dictionary.) She told me it was her day off and that she could come with me if I wanted.
We eventually found the bus stop. It was really nice that she could repeatedly ask questions for me as it would have taken me twice as long to find the place. And then we were off. She immediately pulled out her wallet and paid for both of our tickets. The bus ride was about an hour-long. We exchanged names, ages (she happened to be the same age as me, 19), and what we were doing. I listened to some of her music. She showed me some games and let me play them. I gave her my email address and told her she could visit me in the US anytime.
We spent a few hours in Zhujiajiao, which is called “China’s Venice” because you can tour the city via boats. This was my second time in a water town. It was a very different experience. I tried a few new snacks which I would never have known about. We took a boat tour, which she helped bargain for and she snapped a couple of pictures of us together. She helped me to buy souvenirs for my friends and family back home.
I made sure to have my money out and pay for the bus ride back into town. We then got back to the train station. I was heading back to meet up with the family I was traveling with and she was meeting up with her friends to go shopping. Somewhere out there in the world are a couple of pictures of this girl and me. I regret not taking a single picture of her. I can’t even remember her name.