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Communicating With Those Who Literally Do NOT Speak Your Language

I watched a recent YT video from The Lord Humungus that discussed, among other things, the need to be able to communicate with people who literally do not speak your language. That got me to thinking, “Wow! I’ve got a huge hole in my preps!”

Seeing as though English is my native language, everyone I know speaks English, and where I live most people speak English, I didn’t give this topic any thought at all until The Lord Humungus brought it up. How silly of me.

Obviously there are regions of the country (and even localized parts of cities) where there are huge numbers of people who do not speak English and, if that’s the case, then you should really be ready and able to communicate with these people. Even for people like me, who do not interact with those who do not speak my language on a regular basis, can benefit from the ability to do so, especially in a SHTF situation.

Who knows. It may not be that the person doesn’t speak my language, it may be that they simply cannot communicate with me because of a handicap or even from shock. If I can offer some other form of communication besides verbally then all the better.

That said, the first prep I would want–assuming I’m not going to learn another language–is a translation dictionary. The major drawback to this idea is that it would only work for one language to another (say English to Spanish) so you’re limited there. It would also likely have many, many translations I wouldn’t care about. The other major problem I can see is that some words may be very difficult to pronunciate properly and, in trying, you may say something slightly wrong and wind up offending the other person. Regardless, it’s still better than nothing. Obviously, it would be wise to stock a dictionary that is relevant to your geographic area.

If you’re unaware, there are many free translator apps for smartphones too, such as this Google Translate app for the iPhone. I’ve heard both good and bad things about these apps but, as with the dictionary, they’re certainly better than nothing. The good thing is that they usually support many languages. Even better is that with some apps (such as this one) you can actually speak what you’re trying to say in many cases and get a translation. You’ll certainly be limited by your ability to keep your smartphone powered but I think smartphones will be highly useful, even in an extended grid-down situation for other reasons too.

In the video, he also points out the potential use of flash cards for this reason. Apparently the military may provide assorted tools such as maps that may be used to communicate with picutres on them. The Lord Humungus points out that this may prove to be a useful idea to make up your own flash cards or map-style idea with some basic communication scenarios. While I’m not much of a drawer, I would imagine that you will need little more than stick figures and some imagination to pull it off. I’m not sure exactly what scenarios I would want to include but basic drawings depicting thirst, hunger, and shelter, come to mind.

So, what else can you think of? How useful would this be?

4 comments to Communicating With Those Who Literally Do NOT Speak Your Language

  • Ted

    Kinda reminds me of when I first started dating my gf , Went over to meet her folks and their english was limited and my Russian at the time was non existant .There was a lot of pointing and polite nodding and smiling when she wasn’t in the room to translate lol .

  • John

    This is a good basic article on communicating with groups who do not speak your language. Another source to consider is your local hospital, or someone who works there. Many hospitals use “pointy – talky” cards, about the size of a placemat. These are used to communicate basic needs; for example, the non-English speaker points to a box with “I want” (in both his language and English)and a box with “water” (in both languages and with a picture of the item/activity). Very basic, but also very effective. Also, in my experience as an RN, when you have a non-English speaking family or group, it is often the youngest one who has the best command of English. RN John in New Jersey

  • Ed

    This is a good topic that I had not really considered before. Given that I live in a significant non-English speaking part of the country it is something I need to think about more. Thank you for the thoughts.