Communicating Without A Shared Language

I’ve recently returned from a trip to Beijing, China and had the unique opportunity to experience communication in the absence of a shared language. Despite the obvious language barrier, I met lots of great people who were keen to chat about my smallest travelling companion (my two year old son). Through the use of pointing, gestures, natural signs and some guesswork, I muddled through with people and was able to interact quite successfully!

Here are some of the things that travelling reinforced for me:

  • Travelling with a toddler is a great conversation starter!
  • You can make an educated guess about the kinds of things people want to know about you when you are visiting another country (e.g. “Where are you from? How long are you visiting?”)
  • Having some visual aids like a map or photos makes communication so much easier. We quickly learnt to favour restaurants with photo-based menus, where we could point out what we wanted to eat and had a reasonable understanding of what we had ordered
  • People seem to really appreciate your effort in attempting to say “please” and “thank you” in another language. My toddler also learnt how to say “Xie xie” for “thank you” and uttering this guaranteed lots of attention!
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