What really happens when you don’t speak the local language abroad?

By Emilie Naude

What do you do when you don’t speak the local language and a problem arises? A really difficult, unforeseen problem.

Emphasise your words? Shout? Use Google Translate?

Sure, you’ll try Google Translate to help you out of every conceivable language problem you have abroad. Except you’ll try, and you’ll most likely fail. Despite what Google might say, that nifty little app of theirs doesn’t actually suffice when it really, really matters. If you don’t believe me there’s here and here , for example.

That’s the problem with machine translation, it’s just not good enough for the times when you desperately need someone to understand what you’re saying, or what they’re saying!

When you need more than just a general passable ‘gist’, but word for word accuracy of important information. If you want to order a beer, or translate a restaurant menu – Google translate is great. Yes, really!

But what about those times when disaster strikes – when you’re in hospital, you’re involved in a traffic accident, you get arrested, you’re caught up in a natural disaster….I could go on.

I know from my own bitter experience just how terrifying it can be to be stuck a thousand miles from home severely ill in a hospital in La Paz, Bolivia unable to understand a word of what majority of the staff said to me.

Delirious and scared, from both my illness and heavy medication, I had no clue what was going on half the time. While some doctors across the globe do speak some English (if English happens to be your native language), nursing staff do not.

And it’s the nursing staff you will see every hour, every day, every night. It would have made such a difference to me to have had immediate access to a real person, a real interpreter (day and night). My life has changed dramatically since, I have become a mum recently. I can only imagine how terrifying this scenario would be if my child was involved.

Interested in knowing about other ways in which technology can help your wellbeing? Check out this article.

I think everyone should be prepared for the expected and travel with an interpreter in their pocket. Just in case. You might not need them, but they’re there if you do.

That’s why I’m involved with whym…. whym is an app that provides access to live interpreters from your smartphone 24/7.

Be prepared for the unexpected, take whym with you next time you travel!

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