Lost in translation – Essential Survival Skills

penang street

On my very first solo trip, I was stumped travelling from the airport to the hostel. Signage at the train station were in Japanese and I was having trouble getting to the correct platform. I plucked up courage to ask the station master (it was my first time solo so I was quite shy). He pointed to an elevator and gestured to the platforms across and held up the number 3. I thanked him and left. That instance left an impression on me. Well, besides it being my first solo roadblock, it also made me realize language does not always have to be a barrier and that there are ways to navigate through it. Ever since then, I’ve traveled even more around Asia and have since learnt to survive with these simple steps.

Learn simple or basic words in the local language
Getting to know some simple and basic words can help in any situation. Locals will tend to be more willing to help in this way since most usually think foreigners do not know any of their own language. I usually try to remember words such as “where”, “toilet”, “help”, “food”, “water” or “tomorrow”. Otherwise, having a phrasebook (either hardcopy or online) also works.

Gesturing /pointing to pictures helps too
If all else fails, this is the simplest way of communicating with someone. If you remember the words such as ‘where’ or ‘how’, just using gestures or pointing to a map can help to convey the message. This happened to me quite a number of times, especially when i was lost. Most of the time, i was able to get the information through simple gestures or pointing to pictures.

Wonders of Modern Technology – Use an app!
If I ever reach such a point, I usually give up and whip out my smartphone to use Google Translator app. This app has proven useful lots of times especially when nothing I’m saying or gesturing at is getting through.

Then again, being lost is part and parcel of travel explorations. I didn’t always like being lost and don’t think I ever would. Getting information or directions from locals can be quite confusing and a lot of uncertainty but sometimes getting lost has also led me to surprising discoveries so I shall instead try to have a laugh at the end of it. SO the next time I am lost, I’ll make sure to just walk up to someone and ask…OR I can just use GPS and Google Map…modern times yeah?! 🙂

2 thoughts on “Lost in translation – Essential Survival Skills

  1. We always try to learn at least a few essential words and phrases, but Google translate has been a very handy tool in many cases. Travel is so much easier now with the internet, I look back and wonder how we managed back in the day. (started traveling extensively back in the 80s.)


    • That’s true! I remember travelling before the era of smartphones and now I wonder how I could have travelled with my google translate and google maps too!! Haha..

      You definitely had a head start on me with the old school travel…I only started travelling on my own in 2008…thanks so much for visiting and commenting!! Your blog is pretty awesome…:)


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