Cartagena’s solution is not new, but it is often overlooked. A sign language interpreter for the profession, he decided to try to communicate nonverbally. “I leveled and held it like a chicken,” he says – a request for spices used to make chicken. Then she got the ointment for pork. “He then made spice blends for all things and painted a picture of chicken, fish, pork, carrots and cow on each bag,” he recalls.
“Communication must happen – and it will.”
Fortunately, there are easy ways to get your message across. There are various translation apps and services that help travelers overcome language barriers.
Translation applications. Google Translate, the most widely used translation app, automatically translates phrases into dozens of languages. “Google Translate is a great resource if you don’t speak the destination language, and you need to get urgent information like ordering in a restaurant,” says Carolina Sಚೆnchez-Herwas, founder of CSH Translation, a translation services provider. But they recommend using it carefully: the application may not take nuances such as gender agreement, jokes, or metaphors. Google also offers an interpreter mode that allows you to speak on your device to get almost real-time translation. But for most users, it depends on a fast Internet connection, so it may not work if you’re offline.
Carla Bevins, who teaches business communication at the Tepper School of Business at Carnegie Mellon University, loves Microsoft Translator, which translates to over 100 languages and allows for 100 participants. The iTranslate app offers more flexibility. “It supports gesture-based controls and can translate Chinese characters,” he says. But Bevins cautions against over-reliance on translation apps. There is no substitute for learning some key phrases and communicating face to face. “Be prepared to try to talk to others,” he advises. “When you practice speaking, you get better at it and make some good memories.”
Direct interpreters. Many apps can connect you to a live interpreter. Alan Campbell, a former foreign service worker who teaches Spanish translation, likes the app Genie (iOS or Android), which charges one dollar per minute for real-time commentary. “This is a great app with an honorable mission to support language access and equity in other cases than travel,” he says. The app works through your camera, so your interpreter can also see the body language instructions of the person you’re talking to, which allows for greater accuracy. Other apps, such as Steps, charge by word but offer more language options. Translations of the day can be translated, assisted in pronunciation and, if necessary, contact you with an interpreter.
Translation cards. In cases where accurate translation is essential – describing a medical condition or food allergy, for example – some travelers buy cards or printouts to take a vacation. Companies like Equal Eats sell cards that explain conditions, including celiac disease and nut allergies ($ 7.99 for a quick download or $ 16.99 for a plastic card) in different languages. Translation software is “inaccurate enough to convey fatal allergy information abroad,” says Kyle Dine, CEO of Equal Eats. The company uses professional translators, proofreaders and native speakers to ensure the most accurate translation. Information is also available as an app.
Travel insurance. If you have a travel insurance policy, you can take advantage of translation services. For example, Alliance Travel Insurance Assistance Hotline offers its customers real-time services in several major languages, including French, German and Italian. “Passengers who call in advance can request our help with arrangements in their destination language – from booking a hotel, restaurant or sightseeing tour to getting the important information they need throughout their travels,” says Alliance’s Travel Assistance Manager Lashantha Sullivan. If you have a Medjet membership that offers medical evacuation, you can also use its medical translation benefits to distill and translate foreign medical reports into English.
Of course, the best way to communicate is to learn the language. Even if you don’t have time to become proficient, knowing some words and phrases can be helpful. There are many apps that can help you learn another language. “Even a small effort goes a long way and is appreciated by the locals but gives you a deeper connection with a country far from your smartphone,” says Franziska Wirth, sales manager for guidebook publisher Rough Guides.
But there is not always time for that. On a recent visit to Turkey, I hadn’t missed a hello (“merhaba”). One evening, I found myself in a taxi with an English-speaking driver. I stumbled across my phone for a Google Translate and finally typed what I wanted to say. Then I press the button to play it louder. Nothing happened. So I pushed it back. The Turkish translation is slow-rendered, it happens when you press the button twice and everyone laughed so well.
Finally, Cartagena methods can be even more effective. Kelly Price, HR manager at Kirkland, Wash., Recently used it when visiting a town outside Izmir on Turkey’s Aegean coast. She stopped at a restaurant where no one spoke English and the menus were completely Turkish.
“So I made chicken noises,” he says. “I grew up on a farm and can make a lot of real chicken. And we got chicken for lunch.
Potential travelers should take into account local and national public health directions regarding infectious disease before planning any trips. Travel Health Notification information can be found on the interactive map of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention by the destination, and can be found on the CDC’s Travel Health Notice webpage.