Overcoming the language barrier at overseas duty stations
Despite having taken four semesters of German language courses in college, I’ve had plenty of translation incidents during our three years in Deutschland. My most recent infraction was made just last week when we took my husband’s sisters to a local restaurant to celebrate their highly anticipated visit.
As my sister-in-law and I perused the lengthy menu together, I did my best to translate the items for her. She chose Schweinshaxe from a list of hearty meat dishes, which I’d told her meant “pork chop.” When the waiter later presented her with her plate and announced that her “pork knuckle” was served, both of our gag reflexes kicked in.
I apologized for my mistake with a sheepish grin and offered to trade plates with her, but she put on a brave face and dug in for a bite. I knew it was a happy - and delicious - accident as soon as I saw her expression change from suspicion to satisfaction.
Turns out, pork knuckle isn’t half bad; however, language translation accidents - especially when you’re travelingor dealing with an emergency - don’t always work out so well. Not being familiar with the local dialect raises the risk of miscommunication and misunderstandings between local nationals and military families at overseas duty stations.
Ready to overcome the language barrier and make meaningful connections with the people of your host nation? This list of resources is here to help.
Classes on your installation or in your community
If you know you tend to learn best in a classroom environment, check to see if any organizations offer instructor-led language courses on your local military installation. There may be classes available in your community, as well. Taking lessons in person is a great way to practice interacting face-to-face while connecting with like-minded people in your area.
Prefer one-on-one instruction? Consider hiring a private tutor for in-person or online language lessons. Websites like Verbling help you find a teacher that will work with you on your own schedule and budget.
Free resources at the library
If the cost of language lessons isn’t in your budget, plan a trip to your local library to find out what free resources are available to you. Got your library card? That’s all you need to get access to language books, CDs, and DVDs for all ages and skill levels. Audio books, e-books and free courses may be available online through the library’s website, as well.
Language learning and translation apps
Another time- and cost-effective way to begin learning the local language is by downloading free learning apps to your smart phone. This will allow you to learn as you go - no matter where you are. Duolingo, HelloTalk and Busuu are available on Google Play and iTunes. Translation apps like iTranslate Voice 3 are also helpful to overcoming the language barrier as you interact with local nationals in your community.
Finding a way to overcome the language barrier reduces the risk of miscommunication and misunderstandings while raising your self-esteem and deepening your understanding and appreciation for the local culture.
Next time, I’ll order pork knuckle with confidence.
Have you experienced a similar translation incident? What are your favorite language learning resources?
Subscribe to our Stripes Europe newsletter and receive amazing travel stories, great event info, helpful PCS tips, interesting lifestyle articles and more directly in your inbox!
Follow us on social media!