A traveller’s guide to a multilingual country

Travel is a humbling experience in itself. When one travels through a multilingual country like India, there can be exponentially many factors that lead to this humbling experience. Here is a guide to help a traveller to cross the linguistic barriers in such cases.
Written by: Shankar G

What is the difference between a tourist and a traveller? 


A tourist is one who expects and demands the same comforts of his living room wherever he goes in the world. Tourists have the surplus wealth to employ travel agents who would bend over their heads to make sure they do not feel lost in a foreign land. They would get their own cuisine for breakfast, they would get translators and interpreters to communicate with the locals and they would get guides who shadow them to localize every single experience to them. They seek to see the world through their filtered glasses.


On the other hand, a traveller is someone who accepts and understands the local life, language and culture. Travellers try to fit in rather than stand out. They have the surplus goodwill to take the effort to learn a greeting phrase in the local language, to taste the local cuisine and even pass a compliment or two to the chef. They embrace the diversity and fill their memories with various cultures. They see the world as it is.


One major limitation for a traveller is language. In spite of all the goodwill, if he does not learn the local language, he is left only with sign language to communicate. There are several inspirational tales of travellers who did just fine with sign language and gestures. It is not necessary to become a master of a new language but it is always a good idea to make travel a bit easier by acquiring a basic working fluency while travelling to a foreign place. 


The 5Ws are the first thing a traveller needs to know while learning a new language. Just think of these scenarios. What is the name of this street? When will the next train arrive? Why should I pay extra for this? Which of these dishes on the menu is gluten-free? Where is the washroom? When you are all alone, asking these questions right the first time saves you a lot of frustration. Travel is full of such scenarios. So start with these basic question phrases. 


When you greet people appropriately, they answer appropriately. Learn the local greeting phrase. Learn how to express gratitude. Learn how to say thank you. Learn to respond when being greeted by a stranger. It connects people instantly and they will subconsciously take all the efforts to become the guardian angels to guide you through the foreign place. 


Introduce yourself appropriately. Learn how to tell your name, where you are coming from, where you are going to. In case of an emergency, don’t get lost for words, literally!


The above phrases should serve good for a beginner no matter where he is travelling. As the next step, be mindful of the conversations happening around you. This will help to pick up crucial words here and there and by the context you might even guess their meanings. Try to repeat the sentences you hear around you mentally. Rehearse once within your mind before speaking to a local person. All that they need to know is that you are making the effort. The response will be multiple times the effort and goodwill.


All this gyaan is not only for a European young man backpacking across Africa in his youth. This is equally relevant to the businessman from Gujarat travelling to Chennai, to the army recruit from Coorg posted in Arunachal Pradesh, to the movie star from Mumbai acting in Bengali cinema, and to the politician from Delhi travelling to Odisha. In a country like India, embracing a local culture and speaking a word or two in the local language is a symbol of showing respect to the host culture. Respect comes back when it is given. 


So, how do you say ‘thank you’ in Assamese?



Disclaimer : The opinions expressed here belong solely to the author(s) and are not to be taken as the stated position(s) of Magnon or its subsidiaries.

    Leave a Reply

    Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *