Emergencies & Language Translation


We interviewed a 66 year old male, USA (born in Iran), Speaks English, Persian, and Urdu.

Tell us about your language barrier experience:

It was my first time traveling in China. One day I was out in public and just simply needed to use the restroom.

While walking along the street, I was looking but could not understand any of the signs nor was I able communicate to anyone what I needed. I looked for the normal toilet symbols, or even a “WC” sign.

At the time, I didn’t have a phone or dictionary to look up the word. Especially in that situation, I could only point at where I thought a restroom would be. If it was another kind of translation, like perhaps driving directions, I could figure it out through gestures.

But how do you describe needing to use the restroom? The gesture for what I needed would obviously have been inappropriate here. It was terrible and I was afraid that I was going to offend someone. No one could understand any of the ways I was trying to describe it, and it was just a really bad and uncomfortable situation. Finally I had to walk away, but I ended up going into a shop and the lady working inside must have realized I was a tourist and finally recognized what I was trying to ask.

But how do you communicate that to someone? Especially a man asking a woman?

As an adult talking to another adult, just imagine how difficult that is.

Now, I always make sure that I have the translation of toilet for wherever I’m traveling ready in my phone!

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by Anna Gentsch