DonÂ’t wait for an emergency to find out you donÂ’t know what to say. By Scott Kauffman

PrintIn preparation for your next trip abroad, one of the last things you might be thinking about is the role of language. Yet the ability to clearly communicate in a foreign country can dramatically affect your experience. At least thatÂ’s the opinion of Nataly Kelly, a senior analyst with Common Sense Advisory, a Boston-area market research firm that focuses on international business and the language services that support it. Kelly is the author of Telephone Interpreting: A Comprehensive Guide to the Profession. HereÂ’s a couple of travel tips from Kelly that might prove to be every bit as indispensable as that precious passport.

Get Vital Documents Translated Before You Leave Find a reputable translation company and translate birth certificates, marriage certificates, and any other important personal documents. For example, if your family members have any medical conditions, you might want to get a letter from your doctor describing the conditions as well as the medications and dosages that have been prescribed. This single letter can then be translated rather than translating a mountain of medical records.

For all important documents, it might be wise to obtain a “certified translation,” which comprises a certificate of accuracy or note from the company attesting to the translator’s qualifications and/or the vendor’s quality assurance process. Some companies may provide you with an official notarized version, or they may affix an apostille to denote the authenticity of the document.

Know Your Rights to Language Assistance Do local hospitals and clinics in your host country provide interpreter services? What if you are stopped by police? These are all questions many travelers probably never consider prior to stepping foot on foreign land. As it turns out, many police officers are bilingual, and some hospitals have staff interpreters on the premises. When in doubt, look on government websites and ask others who have lived in your host country if they know what your rights to receive interpreting services will be.

Purchase an Interpreting Services Card If you are unable to find out whether you have access to interpreting services, your best bet is to have a back-up plan in place. One of the best options is purchasing an “interpreting card” that works much like a phone card. Equipped with pre-paid minutes, you can access a telephone interpreter by simply dialing the toll-free number on the card and asking for an interpreter for your language. These cards come in 150-200 languages and cost anywhere from $1.50 to $3.50 per minute.

“This is a really powerful tool,” says Kelly, pointing out that the card can be indispensable in a variety of situations, from getting help in an emergency to finding that precious gift in a back-alley market. Common Sense Advisory, 978-275-0500,