Recently, on a trip to china, I was forced to communicate with people who spoke not a word of English. It took me a while, but there is a simple tip that will save you a lot of bother when it comes to communicating to people who do not speak your language: Learn a few basic phrases, and you can say a lot more than you think you can. I learned about 30 words, and I was fine for most things. These are the critical words to know:
“I want …”: Learn the polite way of saying that you would like to have something. Then just point at what you want.
“Thank you”: Saying thank you and smiling helps a lot
“1 to 12″: Know your numbers, it helps you from telling time to asking for change to dialing telephone numbers
“Okay, Yes, No”: If you cannot say these, you’ll be in trouble
“You, Me, Her/He”: When you need to communicate, this helps.
“What/Why”: What do you want? What’s the problem? Why should I come? These two words form the basis of all questions, and just saying them will indicate to people that you are in doubt
“Where”: Travelling involves well…moving around. So know how to say ‘where’
“Taxi, Airport, Bus, Road, Car”: The basic transportation means
“Hospital, Police, Ambulance”: Bad things happen, be prepared
And really, after knowing these words, you really can get through most situations just fine. I did exactly that for a few weeks in Brazil last year.