Use These 5 Tricks to Get By in a Foreign Language

Do you sit at your computer, dreaming of a new life abroad? Don’t be intimidated if your little spot of heaven is in a country where you don’t speak the language.

When I moved overseas to Ecuador, I hadn’t studied Spanish since university—over 20 years before. My knowledge consisted of a dim memory on how to conjugate verb endings. That’s it.

Obviously, if you move to another country, life will be easier if you have even a rudimentary understanding of the language. Charades and pointing will only take you so far.

But you don’t have to be totally fluent for the move to be a success. A smile, a good attitude, and the following tips are what you need to begin your adventure.

Use Apps

Google Translate is your new best friend. If you know you’ll need to ask a particular question or use a certain word, type it into Google Translate. When taking my kids to the doctor, I have used it to translate their patient history. I have even used it while at the doctor’s office. Most doctors have computers and internet connections in their offices. They have always been willing to converse with me online using this handy tool.

Various other translation apps can be downloaded to your smart phone, including Pilate and Talking Translator Pro. These are useful because you can speak in English and read or hear the translation in the other language.

Learn Shortcuts

A great technique to quickly learn a language is to study short cuts. For example, if an English word ends in “ity”, the Spanish equivalent will usually end in “dad.” So, university becomes universidad and capacity is capacidad. English words that end in sion/tion/cion will have a “ción/sión” ending. Corporation thus becomes corporación and persuasion is persuasión.

Take Notes

Write down commonly used sentences in a small notebook. In one column, write the English version. In a second column, write the sentence in the other language. Don’t worry about spelling it correctly. Instead, spell it phonetically so you remember how to pronounce it. If you are feeling fancy, you can also spell it correctly in a third column.

If you get stuck, just point to the sentence in your notebook. If you do that, however, make sure you print very neatly. There can be some variations in how letters and numbers are written. In four years of living abroad, I have encountered only three locals who wrote in cursive, and one of those had lived in England for several years. Everyone else, from day laborers to doctors, all print in block letters.

Use What You Know

At first, you may feel self-conscious hearing strange sounds coming from your mouth. To lessen your accent and be more easily understood, don’t worry about it. If you know half a dozen words, use them. You will pick up more words as you become familiar using the ones you know.

Make Bilingual Friends

Two years after moving abroad, I met a woman who’d lived in an English-speaking country for several years. Not only is she quite fluent in English, but it also gave her an insight into understanding my culture. While I now speak enough of the local language to do most things, there are still some things for which it is helpful to have an interpreter. Expat forums on line are great resources for finding interpreters.

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