Language Barriers

Communication. In a way, it’s the one big thing we take for granted. Things can get a bit sticky when miscommunication arises, and it can be frustrating when you feel like you can’t get your point across. You don’t have to be fluent in French to navigate Paris, or an expert in Spanish to survive in Madrid, but you still should make an effort. Chances are, if you do, the locals will, too, and respect you all the more for it.

Never simply assume that anyone knows how to speak English. Try starting with “Hello” or “Do you speak English?” in the language commonly spoken. If they do, they’ll usually be more than happy to help.– Michelle, London


The British may speak the same language, but there’s definitely something different – and it’s not just the accent. Here’s a list of things that might trip you up a bit while across the pond.

You all right? – No, it doesn’t mean they think something is wrong with you. It’s just how they say hello. A correct response might be, “Yeah, you?”

Take away – The phrase “to go” actually is considered rude since it seems like you’re rushing them.

Top up – To add more money to something. For example, “I would like to top up my Oyster Card.”

Quid – Kind of how we use the term “buck.” For example, ten quid is ten pounds.

Cheers! – This can mean a lot of things. It can mean anything from “Thank you” to “You’re welcome” to “Goodbye.” Use with caution.

The term sebou in Czech means food to go. You do not say it within a restaurant, but I did once. The woman looked at me and started laughing. Lucky for me, my friend Adam spoke Polish and translated most of what she said.  Essentially, after 4 minutes of waiting for the food, she would not give me my kebab sandwich until I taught her the English word for plastic bag – Jeremy, Prague

Always say “Bonjour, monsieur/madame,” “Merci,” “S’il vous plait,” “Au revoir,” etc. And unlike in the States, it’s always polite to assume a woman is “madame” and not a “mademoiselle.” “Madame” implies you recognize that they have already earned the respect of a family and a household (although that may not be the case). – Angela, Paris

I decided to take Elementary Chinese I in New York before I left, so then I could have some basic knowledge of Chinese that I could possibly use once I arrived (e.g., asking for directions or buying something). – Jennifer, Shanghai

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