The 5 Most Terrifying Times To Not Speak The Language

At Babbel, we like to focus on all the positive aspects of learning a language — but today we’re taking a different approach. In celebration of Halloween, here’s a list of the scariest situations to not understand the language.

Not being understood is a uniquely frustrating — and occasionally scary — experience. Human connection is built upon mutual understanding and a unique ability to talk things through, but what about the scenarios when that’s impossible? Let’s take a look at the video above and the situations below:

1. At The Hairdresser

When you go to the hairdresser, you’re strangely at the mercy of another human being to radically alter the way that you look. Usually, you don’t even know them for long before they start changing your appearance. If you prefer the barber, then you know a similar experience, but amplified by the stress of a person holding a blade to your face. Not exactly comfortable — even in your mother tongue.

This is all exaggerated when you attempt to do it in a foreign language. It’s difficult to translate hair cutting lingo and color preferences into any language with all the relevant cultural knowledge even if you speak the language well. Surely, the idea of walking out of the salon with fire-engine red hair or an accidental mullet is a bone-chilling thought for most people.

2. At A Government Office

If you’ve ever moved to another country, then you know that you’re obliged to pay visits to at least a few government offices right off the bat. In my experience, these offices have a tendency to employ unusually intolerant individuals, or at least to cultivate them. Maybe it’s the endless flow of clueless foreigners that just gets to them after a while.

Unless you want to be yelled at, you’ll need to try and speak the local language (and try to do it politely). In many places, these civil servants don’t speak English, so you won’t have much of an alternative, aside from hiring a translator. Oh, and did I mention that you’ll need to do heaps of paperwork in another language, too? Even in the best-case scenario, you can predictably expect to have a terrible time.

3. Doing Any Kind Of Math

As someone who’s paid to write, I’m tempted to say that any and all mathematics are terrifying. (They are.) Dividing a bill between multiple people and calculating an appropriate tip is bad enough in English, but it absolutely gets worse if you don’t understand the language. Sometimes restaurants in other countries don’t bring you a bill, but simply tell you the amount you must pay. That’s enough to make even the mathematicians among us quake with fear.

4. Anything Medical Related

Grim, yes — but also true. Sure, most doctors around the globe speak some English because medical journals and professional trainings are usually in English, but this isn’t necessarily the case for emergency responders, hospital receptionists, or even nurses. If you thought explaining what the hell is wrong with your body is difficult to do in your native language, try your hand at miming it to someone (or worse, using Google Translate). Hopefully, you don’t have any major medication allergies.

5. The End Of The World

We don’t have great data to back up this claim, but it’s safe to say that the end of the world will be even more of a hassle if you’re monolingual. If you’re in another country when an evacuation (or worse, a quarantine) is declared, you better hope someone nearby pities you enough to tell you in English. Or if you want to scavenge a deserted supermarket, cross your fingers that there are pictures on the packaging of the remaining goods. Or that you can read warnings like “Stay away,” “Zombie outbreak” and “Keep out” in the most widely spoken languages.

The fact of the matter is, no matter how good you are at living off the land or destroying brains, communication is a key skill for surviving the end of the world. Increase your odds by learning how to do it in another language (or two).

Survive the apocalypse, learn a language.
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