Have you ever felt completely hopeless in a foreign country, not understanding a single word? On a recent trip to Kyoto, Japan, I was in such a situation. Standing in front of a ticket vending machine, I was clueless as to which buttons to press to buy a train ticket.
I tried it anyway by purchasing the most expensive ticket available at about 5 francs. But after my first ride, the ticket was no longer letting me into the subway. I also was unable to find someone who speaks English, so I spent the rest of the day exploring Kyoto with countless taxi rides...
ICONSPEAK to the rescue!
Experiencing a language barrier has always been particularly frustrating for me. (It is one of the reasons why I speak five languages.) Now, three innovative Swiss minds have come up with a new language: ICONSPEAK.
The idea was born out of transportation misfortunes in Vietnam. George, Steven and Florian explain their concept: "Many times we were confronted with a language barrier that was only to be overcome by drawing signs, symbols or icons on a piece of paper, map, or into the dirt."
"We thought it would be great to have an essential set of icons with you, permanently, so that you could just point on whatever you need – and people would understand. Soon the notepad was pulled out again and we started listing more or less essential icons that would have been of great help during not just ours, but basically anyone’s trip."
In a nutshell, ICONSPEAK is a universal and simple way to communicate.
T-shirts, tote bags and caps: The ICONSPEAK company offers multiple gadgets and clothing items with about 40 basic symbols printed on them. When combined, these icons enable a traveler to deal with people speaking any language, anywhere on the globe.
Thanks to this set of basic icons, ICONSPEAK would have helped me purchase the correct train ticket that day in Kyoto. Without using words, I could have simply pointed at a symbol (train) while waving across the Kyoto transportation map...
I am left wondering when ICONSPEAK will release a set of icons for Switzerland: Cheese, chocolate, and the Matterhorn...