How To Speak English To People Who Don’t Speak The Language

Logan Horsford

Once again, world traveler and globetrotter-extraordinaire, Logan Horsford is back with another guest post about life lessons that he has learned on his journeys.  A lot of these things will sound very obvious but after listening to hundreds of tourists attempting to communicate with locals, it is obvious that they are not.

Remember that even in countries where English is taught to kids, the kids don’t get to practice with locals and are often taught by locals. I’ve spoken to a few ‘English teachers’ that I had difficulty communicating with due to their strong accents and misuse of words. Hiring locals is cheaper than native speakers.

Of course, learning the local language or hiring a guide is better but if you are lazy and poor like me, there are some easy workarounds.

KISS (Keep It Simple, Stupid)

Don’t use more words than needed. Use simple words. Instead of ‘Excuse me sir, where is the main bus station?’ a small bow and smile with “Bus station?” works better.


Simple mime is your friend.

Shading your eyes and extravagantly looking around is easier than attempting to explain ‘seeking’, even if you think you are Harry Potter.


Avoid slang and colloquialisms.

“Hey, how you doin’? OK?” is likely to result in confusion. “Hello! Good?” is a better.


Avoid swearing.

“That was a fucking good meal!” will likely result in insult or confusion. Telling someone “That is great shit!” means you are saying whatever it was is poop. If the person is young and has seen enough movies from the USA, they may realize that the words are merely intensifiers.


Make it fun.

Remember, it is your fault you don’t speak the language of whatever country you are in. Make people interested in helping you by doing some fun pantomime. For example, if I want cow, I always make horns with my fingers and make a loud ‘mooo!’ noise. If you can pull a silly facial expression while doing it, that’s extra points. This is often the difference between people wanting to help you and admitting defeat by shutting down, becoming disinterested and muttering “No English.”


If you follow these simple guidelines, speaking with the locals will be more fun and informative for both of you.