Moving to a small town in Greece from California—in the middle of the tourist off-season, I might add—has taught me a thing or two about surviving in a country where you don’t speak the language. With a little help from your smartphone and a healthy dose of humility, it is easy to enjoy yourself regardless of your lingual abilities.
1. Translator Apps are an excellent alternative to flipping through a phrase book and prove especially useful when the language is in a different alphabet, such as Greek. is one such app available for iPad, iPhone and Android.
Jibbigo allows you to speak or type the word or phrase you want translated, and with just a few taps, you will have both a written and oral translation. The play button is great for for avoiding awkward mispronunciations, and best of all, the app functions without an internet connection.
2. Don’t assume that people speak English. I have heard countless people express their annoyance, and even feelings of offense, over this faux pas. Next to hello, thank you and please, “Do you speak English?” ranks very high in basic survival language. Even if you butcher it, people will appreciate the consideration. Learning the very basics of a language will go a long way.
3. Ask the concierge for help. Most people working in the hotel industry speak some English so don’t be afraid to get some back on your pronunciation or ask where he or she considers to be the best place to eat.
4. Be an adventurous eater. I have come to view an untranslated menu as the chance to experience food I might not normally choose. Through gesticulation and fragmented speech, I manage to get across the message that I would like the waiter to choose what he or she enjoys the most or what is best this time of year.
5. Laugh and smile…a lot. Luckily, this body language is universal. An easy-going demeanor makes it much easier to make it through a conversation consisting mainly of gestures and miming. Brush up on your charades!