Language Barrier: How to Communicate in a Foreign Country

July 18, 2019

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How to Communicate in a Foreign Country


When Maria Anoshenkova was on holiday in Croatia years ago, she and her traveling companion unknowingly parked their car illegally in front of the flat they were staying in. “The neighbor was telling us the situation, but he was speaking Dutch,” she says, “so we didn’t understand a thing.” Anoshenkova was able to pull up her Google Translate app to figure out just what the man was trying to tell them. “He was going to call the police!” Thankfully, the app saved her from what could’ve been a sticky situation in a foreign country.

Luckily for international travelers today, there are dozens of apps that help you not only prepare for a trip to a country where you don’t speak the language, but help you once you’re there. Here’s a rundown on what to download now before you head out of town.


Before you set out on your adventure, it’s best to prepare by doing some interactive homework. The Talk Travel app directly connects you with native speakers in the country you’re traveling to. By connecting this way, you can better plan your trip based on a travel expert’s recommendations for things such as where to stay, where to eat, what to see, which activities are kid friendly, and more.

Once everything is planned out, it’s time to put in extra study time. Since retiring from teaching, Betsy and Greg Ball, cofounders of Euro Travel Coach, now travel full time throughout Europe. But before they began their travels, they did their homework. “We use Duolingo as a language learning tool,” says Betsy, who, along with Greg, is currently spending a lot of time traveling throughout Italy and learning Italian along the way with the app. “Duolingo is quite good if you are committed and work on it every day.” The free app, which takes language learning, turns it into a game, and breaks it down into tasks, is highly effective, too. In fact, an independent study found that just thirty-four hours of using Duolingo to learn a language is just as effective as one university semester learning the same language.

Ultimately, nothing compares to practicing language with a native speaker, says Adrienne Clement, frequent traveler and author of the blog Bucket Half Full.

Language Barrier

Photography by Images Plus.

“I use Conversation Exchange to find a native speaker who can help me practice spontaneous conversation,” says Clement. “The site is completely free and there are tons of people ready to help you with a new language in exchange for helping them with English or whatever language you’re fluent in. You can also pick up some great travel tips, such as restaurants or activities that the locals love.”

HelloTalk is another app that virtually connects you to a native speaker to help you better learn a language. The Lexody app takes it one step further, though, and helps you connect with a native speaker . . . in person. “Lexody is a platform to find native speakers in your city, and meet up in person to practice real-life conversations,” says founder Walsh Costigan.


After the planning and language prep is done, it’s time to enjoy your travels. Luckily, you can utilize any of the above apps at any time during your trips to help you better communicate in a foreign country; however, frequent travelers suggest having apps such as Google Translate on hand. “It’s so helpful, especially when you download the information to your phone so you can use it even when you don’t have WiFi or a [cell] signal,” says Betsy Ball.

For Anoshenkova, she’s found that during her travels to fifteen different countries, the TextGrabber 6 app is invaluable. “I love to use it in a café or bar when you need to read a menu in an unknown language or you just have doubts about a dish,” she says. Also on hand while traveling abroad: the app Speak & Translate, which she says is especially helpful when you need to make sure you’re buying something for the correct price.

Finally, make getting around a country easier by eliminating the language barrier. Kiwitaxi allows you to set up transportation ahead of time so you don’t have to fret about a confusing fare or haggling with a driver.

Diana Taylor Realty

Diana Taylor Realty


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