How To Make Friends When You Don’t Speak The Language

| 25/11/2015 | 12 Comments

Are language barriers making you hesitant about living or studying abroad? If you think you won’t be able to communicate with locals when you’re in a foreign country, think again! As someone who studied abroad in China without speaking a word of Mandarin, I’m here to share tips on how to meet people and make friends when you don’t speak the same language.

Living in a foreign country with little to no grasp of the local language can be scary, lonely, and difficult. Although it was challenging at first, I found that figuring out ways to connect with locals was one of the most rewarding experiences of studying abroad. I couldn’t be happier that I took a risk and stepped outside of my comfort zone.

You can too! Here are my top tips about making friends across language barriers:

Use Body Language

Your words aren’t the only way that you can communicate with other people. Have you ever paid attention to how people move when they talk to you? You can say a lot without even saying a word when you rely on body language. From hand gestures to facial expressions, there are tons of ways for you to have a conversation with people who speak a different language than you. Practice your body language techniques before heading out, and you’ll soon be entertaining locals with amusing and completely non-vocal stories. You’ll also become really good at charades!

Do as the Locals Do

Don’t spend all your time at the biggest tourist attractions, or you’ll miss out on language learning opportunities. You also won’t get to have an authentic experience living in a place with a totally different culture. Instead of hanging out at the local tourist traps, head to local favorites and hidden gems where you can get to know the people from the region you’re in. You might even run into other foreigners who have the same goal as you.

Learn Your Basics

You wouldn’t travel to another country without at least knowing the basics of where you’re staying and what you’re doing. The same should be true of foreign language learning! As you prepare for your trip, spend some time learning the basics of the local language. You’ll be surprised how far a few simple questions or common phrases will take you when navigating a new country. It also gives you a confidence boost when you arrive, since you can start chatting with locals right away.

There are plenty of great resources to help you get a head start on learning the language before your trip. Check out apps like Duolingo or sign up for a language exchange to learn the basics. You’ll be able to pick up more of the language in time, especially if you immerse yourself in a foreign-language speaking country.

Bring Photos

You’ve probably heard that old saying that a picture is worth a thousand words. You can put that saying to use by bringing photos with you to show to people to help strike up a conversation. Showing them pictures can help them understand you better, like where you’re from and what your life is like. You can even show them photos that will help them know what kinds of interests you have. Keep these photos handy in your wallet, purse, or phone and pull them out when you meet locals that you’d like to become friends with.

Make the First Movepeople, leisure, friendship and technology concept - group of sm

As if a language barrier doesn’t complicate things enough, you might also run into trouble meeting people who have no clue that you even want to hang out with them. Remember that the people you’re around are in their comfort zone at home and trying to keep up with their day-to-day lives. Don’t be shy about asking them to spend a little time with you. Invite them out to lunch, or ask them to recommend a fun place that you can hang out together.

Join a Club or Group

Just because you don’t speak the same language as the locals doesn’t mean you have nothing in common. Before you leave for your studies abroad, look into clubs or groups you can join while you’re there. These clubs or groups give you a great way to meet locals who have the same interests as you. Even if you can’t chat about your interest right away, just being part of the group or club lets them know something about you. It might also encourage them to take you under their wing and help you learn the language, so you can talk more in-depth about the things you like.

Break the Language Barrier

Remember that language barriers are only temporary. Sure, you’ll mess up and say things wrong, but don’t take yourself too seriously. Use these strategies, and you’ll be chatting with locals and having the time of your life before you know it!

carlysmithCarly Smith has been traveling to Europe since she was a kid. Wanting to experience something out of her comfort zone, she recently returned home from a semester abroad with Go Abroad China at Fudan University in Shanghai. She is now back home in Oregon working on her degree in Journalism and can’t wait to see where she ends up next. Follow her on twitter @carlyabroad

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