Funniest Language Barrier Moments While Travelling!

Language barrier moments were the funniest part of our life changing year!

Travelling to countries where you don’t speak the language can be a recipe for disaster hysterical miscommunication stories!  At the best of times a language barrier can be difficult.  When you are far from home it can be hysterical!

On multiple occasions during our Life Changing Year we were stumped by the language and had to use hand signals and charades to try to get our message across.  Sometimes we were successful and sometimes we weren’t!

There was that time in Laos when Kate and I went in search of female items!  We weren’t having much luck and I remember us both giggling hysterically as I offered her a thousand dollars to mime to the shopkeeper what she needed!!  Sadly she declined – imagine the video footage I could have had!

Or how about our French locksmith who spoke not a work of English?  Kate and I succeeded in getting the Chinese-French-speaker(!) to call the French locksmith for us and pick us up at the restaurant.  Then we gave directions to our flat with hand signals.  Then we mimed the problem with the lock (although it was obvious we didn’t have a key!)  He gets us in the door in about 10 seconds then has to write the amount in his mobile phone so we can pay him.  Whilst doing so he gets a call and the caller’s picture pops up and it’s a large naked boob complete with nipple!  The poor guy nearly had a heart attack as Jono and Kate looked on!

The language barrier removed any chance we had of understanding his explanation!

And if you follow us on facebook you’ll be well aware of the insane conversations we endured with the manager of our hostel in Sri Lanka!  To this day we don’t know why these conversations happened.  The manager spoke English – we could understand him perfectly fine.  I’m pretty sure I speak English (my whole family understand me!) – but he had absolutely no idea what I was saying to him!

Here’s a little sample of how the conversations in Sri Lanka went….

Man: Do you need clean sheets?
Me: No, but could we have clean towels?
Man: (looking confused) But it is raining!!

Man: Everything OK with the room?
Me: No, it smells of mold.
Man: I’m glad you are happy!

Man: How old are your children?
Me: 11 and 15
Man: (looking confused) yes it is very wet because it is raining!

Man: Would you like some dinner?
Me: Yes, would you like me to choose something from the window?
Man: (looking confused) Oh midnight?  That is very late…(then he wandered off)……

Gert: (at 1am in the morning as he wakes the man up because our room is FLOODING!)  There is water upstairs, water everywhere!
Man:  Oh. Do you want a drink?

For some odd reason they had absolutely no idea what we were saying!

And I can’t even count the number of times we asked a local where we could get local food.  No matter what country they were in, they always looked at us as though we didn’t know what we were saying.  Then they looked thoughtful.  Then they gave us the obvious answer to the food we were looking for.  The food every westerner is after when they come all this way to visit Malaysia, Germany or Egypt…….


As you can see fun miscommunication is one of the best things about travel to a foreign country.  Here’s some other family travellers and their funny moments.  Be sure to read them all – they gave me a giggle!  And don’t be shy about sharing your own miscommunication moments in the comments below.  Language barrier moment should be shared around…….!

Gabi – The Nomadic Family – God, Please Tell Me I Didn’t Just Say That- Everywhere, Globe 
Val – This Way To Paradise – Lost In Translation: How My Spanish Almost Caused Me To S
Jamie – Great Big Scary World – Naked Massages and Thinking I am Going To Die!
Kobi- Lovely-Travel – Penis For Sale: How Embarrassing Can It Be
Tracey – Expat Experiment – Travel And Eating Our Words

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Funniest Language Barrier Moments While Travelling! — 14 Comments

    • It’s a steep learning curve when there’s just hand signals huh? I’m a bit horrified to admit that I had no idea other cultures used body language so much. I had heard that they did but it’s just not the same as experiencing it first hand! Thanks for dropping by Jamie!

    • Bahahaha! I’m very pregnant!! And doubly embarrased once she worked that out I bet! Funny travel stories are my very favourite thing – thanks for yours Aaron.

    • Oh Si, I just wish I could have found out what he thought I was saying. That had the potential to make everything even more hysterical!!!

    • Hahaha – what I forgot to mention was that right before I discovered that hilarious line my 11 year old came up the stairs almost crying with laughter. Even he thought it was hysterical that the guy thought we wanted a drink while all our belongings were floating down the hall!!

  1. Hilarious! I actually started using the Google Translate app when I traveled through Europe this past holiday and found it to be a lifesaver. Basically I type what I need to communicate in English, and the app will provide the translation in writing and offer a button for it to be read out loud. Then, I hand the phone to the person I’m trying to communicate with and they type what they want to say in their language, and hand it back to me to translate to English. Not as fun as charades, and you obviously need to be careful not to be handing your phone to sketchy people who might run off with it, but super helpful when you’re really in a pinch and need directions, something critical, or if you absolutely must know what that amazing bite of food you just had was made of 😉

    • Wow – wish I’d thought of that when we had some amazing food in Egypt! No idea what it was but it was GREAT! I have all the gadgets too so it would have been super easy! Thanks for the tip!

  2. Kudos for taking it all in good humor, if only more travelers dealt with these kind of incidents the same way. Well done for remembering the situations as well. It takes a certain type of person to have the good attitude and the good memory as well.
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    • Hey Jason – thanks for your kind comment. We do take most things in our stride. And we took a 20,000 pictures through the year so it has helped jog our memory of the funny stuff. Not to mention our new family catch-phrases that have all our friends looking at us like we are mad!!

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