While we were in Europe, we had many exchanges with people who didn't speak English (or, you could say, they had experiences with us- people who don't speak Spanish, Italian, Czech, Polish, German, Croatian, etc.). For some silly reason, I didn't really anticipate looking directly at someone who is trying to tell me something and not being able to understand anything they say. I didn't fathom what it feels like to walk down the street and not be able to read any of the menu boards outside restaurants. I especially did not predict that navigation would be so challenging because we couldn't even pronounce street names.
Of course, we often found ways around the language barrier. Hand gestures and little drawings can go a long way. There were a few times when we left an exchange flabbergasted and confused- especially when the other person knew a little English, or we knew a little of their language, but not enough. The whole point, though, is how important icons, or a visual language, become. Icons are all over cities, and especially public transportation (in trains and subways, but also in the stations), pointing out which way to go or what not to do in order to avoid being killed. This photo shows the sign at the top of a hill we rode/walked our bikes up in Interlocken, Switzerland. It paints a pretty vivid picture (note the biker falling over the ledge), its too bad its at the top of the hill and not the bottom.