Before I came to the Philippines, I found that I could communicate fairly well with my Filipino family and friends, but I knew that the challenge of communicating in the Philippines effectively is going to be far different than the normal challenges I had when talking with people in the United States. Indeed, I’ve had many times where people couldn’t understand what I was saying, here, and some people at my hotel even suggested that I speak English. I’m lucky that English is the second government language here, and that most Filipinos can speak enough English to you to help guide you where you need to go, or what to do. If you’re going somewhere new, and you’re not as familiar with the language as you’d (or a local) would like, there are some ways to make communication a less painful experience.

Study up on some phrases before departure

Lonely Planet has a good phrase guide to help you communicate in whatever language the locals speak in your place of visit. They also provide a pronunciation guide as an aid in reading the phrases in the book, and on the signs and reading materials you may need to read on your trip. If you can afford it, it helps to carry a book with you to read during your travels for the phrases alone. However each location book they provide gives listings of good local sites and places to eat as well, so it’s an invaluable quick guide for whenever you need it.

Consider, too, some research online for some quick phrases and slang that would help you out while you travel, and to write them down somewhere easily accessible during your travels. I keep a small notebook of phrases in my pockets whenever I get utterly linguistically lost.

Use Maps, and Show Maps

If it’s a new place you’re visiting, and you’re also new to the language, getting around and about is a frustrating communication experience, for you and the local. I’ve found that having print outs of your hotel and other important places to visit, along with a map that marks down where you need to go with street names, makes going anywhere in any country a better experience for everyone involved.

Armed with map in hand, and enough know-how to ask someone “Please take me there,” or, “How do I get there,” I’ve found that I can get around most places with very little grief, and only small amounts of embarrassment. When I first got to the airport in the Philippines, and for my first few days, I’ve had no problems saying to my taxi drivers, “Násaán ang SM Megamall?,” (Where is the SM Megamall?) or “Pakihatíd mo po ako dito,” (Please take me here,) while I pointed to a map of where I needed to be. Perhaps I’ve been very lucky, because many locals and taxi drivers here say it’s dangerous touring about to unfamiliar places in the Philippines, but thus far all the people I’ve met have been kind, accommodating, and more than helpful to me whenever I needed to get somewhere, language barrier or not.

Listen and Observe Closely

One important skill I’ve noticed when traveling and still learning the language is to just listen to how other people act, and be aware of the context of how they speak. Just like in English, code-switching and other mannerisms differ depending on who you’re talking to, and that’s far easier to teach through example and experience than it is through a book. In addition, you may learn something new you never knew before, thus making your excursion during vacation an easier one when it comes to talking.

Don’t be afraid to say to people, “Hindi ko po naiintindihan,” (I don’t understand), or “Marunong ka ba ng Ingles Po?” (Do you know English?), or “Paano ko masabi Something in Tagalog?” (This is more slang-y, How do I say Something in Tagalog). People here will at least be nice enough to try responding if they can help.

The only way to better know a language is to use it and be immersed in it. What better way to practice, then, than using it whenever you can wherever you are! Sherpa out for now, but you know the guru and I can always try to linguistically help out whenever we can. Just let us know!

Until next time, then. For now, time to rest and enjoy a snack, some juice, and get ready for the mall, the clubs, or wherever this trip takes me.

This post was originally written by me on the well-travelled guru.