The Definition of Language When You Travel

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Language is one of the most important communication tools.

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Language has played an important role in travel. In order for us to understand each other better when we are going on a trip, communication skill is the main reason of why we should embark on a trip. However, there are 2,000 languages around the world. It could be an obstacle for travelers who are determined to make their ways around the world.

Language is a barrier to communication, or not!

Having embarked on a trip to a foreign country, the first thing that usually comes to mind is the language barrier. Whether it is something we encounter on the road, the people we chance upon, or the cultural practice when going on a trip; language is a fundamental element.

Even though we can speak fluent English or Mandarin, it is absolutely impossible for us to master all languages in the world. For instance, it would be a difficulty for us when we travel to countries where the native people do not speak English or Mandarin. In fact, the act of communication is always a matter of two parties. If the other party does not speak or understand your language, speaking your language would be unworkable.

Language is constitutive of thought.

As a Malaysian, I am glad that I can speak several languages for simple communication. However, traveling to countries like Thailand, Myanmar, Vietnam, and Cambodia where I cannot speak their native languages has always made me feel helpless. In general, these are the low-proficiency English-speaking countries.

Although I have encountered local people who can speak a mutual language in certain areas, I believe most of them deliberately learn to speak a few English words, so that it helps them convince the tourists to buy souvenirs from them.

Language is universal, just like biking.

Biking allows you to get closer and connected to the local community. A touring cyclist tends to spend longer time visiting the towns, villages as well as other scenic spots. Therefore, conversations between those transactions are not a kind of heart-to-heart exchange. In my opinion, verbal communication is definitely not a must for biking. If I always open myself up and smile, I will always be able to feel the benevolence, sincerity, and welcome.

I remember having met an aunt from a small town in Thailand who helped to take care of the hostel that I stayed. The owner and employees of the hostel must have never come across foreigners because the aunt could not converse in basic English language at all. It was raining heavily, and I desperately needed room to stay. However, I was like a chicken talking to a duck. The atmosphere was really embarrassing. Despite not having the sense of art, I asked for a pen and paper from her, then started to draw. I requested for the room type and pricing list. In the end, I successfully got a satisfactory room and price.

Was it important for you to speak the language?

Language is creatively amazing.

I also met a 90-year-old Myanmar Chinese named Chen Bo. At that time of the encounter, he spoke a mouthful of Hokkien, which was a mixture of Burmese and a strong accent. I had a conversation with him for nearly an hour. If you ask specifically what the two of us were talking about, to be honest, I was not sure if what I have understood what Chen Bo spoke. What stayed on my mind was that we had a good time laughing over, and over again.

The reason why biking tour is so much fun is that the cyclists like me spend a long time to engage with the daily life of the local people. Every interaction is a definition of communication, and every communication is a definition of language.  

A hug is a kind of body language. A smile is a language of love. Even though we cannot speak certain languages, we can always smile to the local people in a foreign country. Every country has cultural and language differences, hugs and smiles are undoubtedly more penetrating than speaking a native language for a hundred times.

Remember, your smile is contagious. Your body gesture is a form of communication. Verbal language could be a tool for travelers, but it is not really necessary. In fact, non-verbal language can be a method of communicating when you are going on a trip.


JiaXiang Chua

With a bike and a backpack, JiaXiang travels the world by bicycle. He had ridden around Malaysia, Thailand, Vietnam, Myanmar, Cambodia, Laos and Taiwan. He shares his tips and tricks he used to complete his long-distance bike tours. He also owns a humble studio and organizes local bike tours. When he is not on his bicycle, he can be found in his suit instructing and performing 24 Festive Drums.

Email: jiaxiang0731@gmail.com  Instagram: @jiaxiang0731

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