Language Barrier


The other day when I was talking to my mother on the phone she told me how she had been with her extended family and that they had been asking about me. Then she asked me a question that we both realized we hadn’t talked about since I have been in Taiwan: how am I getting around without the knowledge of the language? My uncle had asked her this question, and she finally asked me.

I guess we had never talked about it before because whenever I shared a story about me messing something up due to the language barrier I was always laughing about it and talking about how silly I am. I came to Taiwan with next to no knowledge of the language. I knew how to say hello and receipt in Chinese and that was it! It has been interesting so far. With a fairly busy schedule it has been hard for me to really push myself to learn Chinese. I also have the main priority of travel in my life right now, but I am sure at some point I will want to focus more on learning the language.

Well now the question can finally be answered. This is how I get around in Taiwan:

1. Saying it in English, Pointing, and Smiling

It is amazing what pointing at a location on a map or sign or picture can get you. Some people may consider pointing rude; I consider it a lifesaver and necessary tool for getting around. Also, don’t forget to add that nice foreigner smile. 🙂

2. Translators

I use Google translator for a lot of basic everyday stuff. I once had a full conversation at FarEastone with a clerk through Google Translate on the computer. It sounds silly, but by the time I left I had my cellphone problems all figured out and my cellphone bill paid for.

I use Waygo to translate menus. If you get the free version it will let you translate up to 10 different items, and if you pay for the app it will translate everything for you. It has been pretty useful so far.

iVoice is an app on my iPhone that will translate whatever I say and the same goes in Chinese. I could go back and forth with a person if I really needed to.

3. Language Exchange

I have met with a couple Taiwanese people that have done language exchange with me. They have taught me very basic things. I also pick-up random Chinese words just by listening and hearing them over and over again. I still know next to nothing, but at least I can comprehend a little bit of what people are saying.

4. Planning Ahead

If I know I am going somewhere then I will make sure I have the locations in Chinese. If I know I want to buy a certain item then I will have it written in Chinese. If I am worried about getting lost I will ask friends if they have gone there before and ask them what they did. Just taking 5 minutes to plan ahead on something really does make a difference.

5. Patience

This one is the biggest one. I can’t blame anyone for my lack of Chinese knowledge except for myself, so the least I can do is just be patient with everyone that I interact with. I really want to learn “sorry, I am so stupid” and “thank you for being so patient and helpful” in Chinese so that I can say it to everyone that I interact with who cannot speak at least a little English. Granted I have had some pretty funny interactions with people, but it would still be nice to understand more. Maybe when my main goal isn’t traveling around so much I will actually take a Chinese class and start learning a little bit more.