Say It in Pictures If You Don’t Have the Words


Language barriers are frustrating. Especially when you are in a foreign country and you need to communicate with people without any common language. You don’t undertand. They don’t undertand. The whole situation feels like a dead end. What most people try to do next is to talk with their hands. Sometimes it works but sometimes it’s not enough. Then it’s time to grab a pen.

Translate your message into pictures. Some people are better at drawing and reading images than others but still pictures tend to be extremely intuitive and natural to human beings. For example, most children can understand images at a much younger age than written text. Reading and speaking are skills that are learned. We see and recognize things, items and people even if we can’t name them.

The best thing about images is that they rarely need to be translated to other languages. That is one reason why there are many universal symbols that are very widely used. For example flammable substances and toxics have their own symbols. Likewise airports and parking spaces have recognizable symbols in many places. If you see a sign that says “Lentokenttä” you may not understand it, but when there’s a small picture of an airplane next to the text you instantly know what it says.

Pictures are powerful in all kinds of comminucation. Even large corporations can utilize visual communication. For example, Ikea has adopted pictures in their manuals and instructions. One can have all kinds of opinions about how easy those Ikea assembly instructions are to follow but at least they are unversal and require very little translation work. For someone like Ikea who produces thousands of items it is a great saving.

So our simple piece of advice is to not let language barriers prevent you from communicating with other people. Just draw if you can’t talk. Find a common visual language.

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