China remains one of the most popular tourist destinations in the world due to the rich history of the country – and its cultural heritage. Hong Kong is one of the most vibrant cities in the world – and one of the most exciting destinations for both the business or leisure traveler. However, many people are filled with trepidation at the thought of traveling to a country that (at least on the face of it) may provide challenges when it comes to language. The question needs to be asked – is it possible to travel to either of these destinations without a working knowledge of Mandarin (Chinese).
The answer is a qualified yes. It just depends on where you are going. Hong Kong presents very few language issues. It is after all one of the most cosmopolitan cities in the world and English is widely understood by those who call Hong Kong home. Tourist offices are also more than willing to lend a helping hand translating Mandarin to English. Most taxi drivers will understand English and staff at hotels are familiar with the language, students can learn too. Those thinking of visiting the city need to remember that around 61 million tourists land in Hong Kong per year – it is extremely tourist friendly.
Those traveling to China may only experience a challenge if they leave the major cities such as Beijing and Shanghai. In these urban areas restaurant menus are by and large also available in English (although some of the direct translations may be a bit puzzling). Once again taxi drivers will understand where you want to go. A hotel business card will usually sort out any confusion.
For those who want to venture further afield, technology will come to the rescue. there are some great smartphone apps that will provide either audio translations to inquiries and they are extremely effective. There are also a number of dedicated voice translation devices on the market. The ‘ Iflytek Electronic Pocket Voice Translator’ is only one example.
For those who prefer the low tech (and proven) option, there is always the traditional phrasebook. Pocket-sized versions will cover most of what the traveler will need to make travel a breeze.
All that said it is only polite to learn a few commonly used phrases prior to your trip. Showing a willingness to learn the language of the country that you are visiting is the best way of breaking down social barriers.
So if you are interested in traveling to either Hong Kong or China, don’t let language sway your decision – there are plenty of options when it comes to making yourself understood – and understanding what the locals have to say.