I bet you’ve already heard of IconSpeak – a super-innovative traveller t-shirt that allows you to communicate your basic travel needs when in a foreign country.
The t-shirt is printed with 40 universal icons that, according to its creators were designed to be understood in any part of the world (well, in fact only 39 of them are useful, as the designers couldn’t resist the temptation of self-advertising by printing the IconSpeak logo right in the centre). When I say “basic needs”, I indeed mean basic – by pointing a finger you can indicate you’re looking for a doctor, a policeman, somewhere to sleep or something to eat, and that’s more or less about it.
So, just how far would you get with these, what do you think? Obviously by pointing to a doctor’s icon you would finally get to a doctor, but how would you explain to him what’s wrong with you and, more importantly, how would you understand his reply? How would you report an incident to a policeman with the help of a few icons? Would the t-shirt not make you an easy prey for pickpocketers? Would you just as well carry these icons neatly printed on a piece of paper in your wallet without announcing to the entire world your tourist status?
Long and short of it, the t-shirt might be a nice addition to your wardrobe, but it shouldn’t discourage you from at least attempting to speak a language of the country you visit. Because the same way that travelling cures racism, speaking languages opens your mind and helps you make new friends. And do remember – when in serious trouble, always seek a professional translator’s help.