Simple Iconspeak T-Shirt Helps Break Down Language Barriers When Traveling Abroad

If you’re the kind of person who loves travel but find it difficult to break down language barriers, you may want to check out Iconspeak, a T-shirt covered in basic pictographs ranging from clocks to bathrooms. Simply point to the symbol associated with your need, and hopefully, the person you’re talking to will understand. It’s better than having to play charades with strangers, I can tell you that.

Iconspeak is the brainchild of friends George Horn and Florian Nast. They were traveling through Asia in 2013 and found themselves in a remote village with “no infrastructure, zero tourism, and just some locals.” The problems they encountered while trying to communicate their needs to the locals inspired them to start working on a simple yet effective solution to the language gap. Two years later, they came up with the Iconspeak t-shirt.


“In the furthest and deepest corners of our world we were repeatedly left with no words, either in breathtaking awe due to the sceneries or in empty silence, due to our lacking linguistic talents,” the Iconspeak website states. “Such situations got us thinking about how to bridge language barriers with utmost simplicity, on a global level. The answer came to us after a remarkable experience in the depths of Vietnamese backcountry: ICONs. Because with ICONs, you can SPEAK, you can SPEAK to the world.”


The Iconspeak collection consists of three types of T-shirts – long, short, sleeveless – as well as tote bags and hats that feature fewer icons. The products are available internationally through the Iconspeak website, with the founders attesting that they work anywhere in the world. “I have used it in Norway,” said Horn. “It works beautifully – the people you ask are surprisingly quick in getting what you want/mean since they are anyway thinking in a certain context (depending on who they are or where they are). [If] you point to the bus and the clock on the shirt and you do this at a bus stop – anybody will know that you want to know when the next bus leaves.” 


Iconspeak is a clear example that the answer to complex problems can be ridiculously simple. I have yet to try the shirt, but somehow I have no doubt that it actually works. It might not always help, but for common problems, like finding a telephone, the nearest hotel or an ATM, the Iconspeak seems like a viable solution.

Photos: Iconspeak/Facebook


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