Solutions to Language Barriers

Updated April 17, 2017

Language barriers can become frustrating during a trip abroad or in everyday interactions with foreign speakers. You want to help each other, but not being able to communicate leads to misinterpretations. Learning foreign languages is a long process, and law enforcement agents or health care personnel, for example, who stumble upon numerous situations with foreign-language speakers, must act immediately. For this reason, both modern technology and more traditional methods can help you overcome language barriers.

Body Language

Language barriers prevent people from understanding descriptions of commonplace feelings or objects. Body language can help you understand the basic meaning of others' speech. For example, when you don't want to accept something, wave your hand or make an "X" sign with your arms. When the conversation revolves around objects, such as when police officers wants to see someone's ID or passport, they can show another passport or ID card and point at the foreign-language speaker.

Visual Aid

When you cannot express yourself with spoken or body language, draw what you have to say. You only need pencil and paper, as well as basic drawing skills to make foreign-language speakers understand. For instance, when you need to go to a train station, draw a train carriage and a station structure. You can even ask for supplies from your business associates this way. Foreign-language speakers can also use the same method to reply.


Interpreters are trained multilingual professionals whose duty is to translate spoken statements from one language to another in real time. Law enforcement agencies, courts of law and other public services employ interpreters to fully clarify the foreign-language speaker's remarks, instead of just understanding the general meaning. Interpreters can either be present during a conversation or participate via the phone, in which case they may miss important elements of the foreign-language speaker's body language.


Modern technology allows you to use electronic interpreters, which are either separate devices (such as Ectato iTravl), about the size of a cellphone or software you can install on smart phones. Their operation is simple; you have to set the input language, talk clearly to the device and then select the translation. They are easy to carry and are not as expensive as professional interpreters. However, devices cannot interpret body language or signs. In addition, if you don't understand what language your interlocutor is speaking, you can't set the input language.

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About the Author

Tasos Vossos has been a professional journalist since 2008. He has previously worked as a staff writer for "Eleftheros Tipos," a leading newspaper of Greece, and is currently a London-based sports reporter for Perform Sports Media in the United Kingdom. He holds a Bachelor of Arts in communication and media from the University of Athens.