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Overcoming the Language Barrier : Here are tips and services to help you communicate abroad when no one speaks your tongue.

February 07, 1993|LUCY IZON

I ran into language difficulties on my first trip abroad, years ago.

I was in downtown Tokyo and became separated from my student group. I couldn't remember the name of the place where I was staying, let alone manage to pronounce it. I wandered for what seemed a long time before another tourist who could speak Japanese offered to help me out.

Had I been more experienced, I would have known to search out a hotel or large department store where there are usually some staff members who speak foreign languages.

I would have also known to carry the address of where I was staying, written in the local language. Even if you can't pronounce the address properly, you can usually show it to a bus or taxi driver and get directions home.

Fortunately for budget travelers, there are also international networks of travel services in many areas of the world that are geared to helping student-style travelers, and that usually have staff members who speak English.

For example, STA Travel, which began as Student Travel Australia nearly 30 years ago, now has more than 200 locations worldwide that, among other services, offer travel advice.

STA also sells tickets with no advance-booking restrictions for flights on scheduled airlines to various parts of the world, making them especially attractive to budget travelers who wish to remain flexible. These tickets are available to full-time students up to the age of 30 or 35 (depending on the airline), non-students under 26, and spouses and dependent children traveling with them.

STA recently added a third office in Tokyo's Yotsuya district, the city's student center. It's located on the second floor of the Toki Building, 1-5 Yotsuya, Shinjuku-ku, Tokyo 160, telephone from the United States 011-81-3-5269-0751. All of STA's Tokyo offices have English-speaking staff. The other two are in Ikebukuro, a shopping district, and Shibuya, an area of trendy shops and restaurants.

STA entered the American market in 1982. There are now 11 STA offices in the United States, including three in greater Los Angeles: 7202 Melrose Ave., (213) 934-8722; 920 Westwood Blvd., (310) 824-1574, and 120 Broadway, Suite 108, Santa Monica, (310) 394-5126.

Budget travelers visiting Hong Kong can get help locating clean, safe, basic accommodations through Hong Kong Student Travel.

This travel service owns the STB Hostel, which offers an economical dormitory, twin and triple accommodations in the downtown area.

You can find the STB Hostel in the Mongkok/Yau Ma Tei district at 2/F Great Eastern Mansion, 255-261 Reclamation St., Kowloon. It's about a one-minute walk from Nathan Road, a busy shopping area, and three minutes from the Mass Transit Railway station.

The hostel offers beds in dormitory rooms (separate rooms for men and women) for about $8.50; twin rooms for $30 with a shared bath, $36 with a private bathroom; triple rooms for $36 with a shared bath, $42 with a private bathroom. All rooms are air-conditioned.

In the hostel you'll find a common room (a good place to meet other travelers) with a TV and a travel service counter at which you can arrange for transportation to, and tours of, China.

You can reach the STB Hostel from Kai Tak International Airport by taking bus No. 1A, 9 or 13. A taxi will cost $3.60. From Kowloon Railway Station, take Bus No. 1K or a taxi for $2.40. From the Star Ferry, take bus No. 1, 1A, 2, 6, 6A 9, or a taxi for about $1.80.

Reservations can be made through some foreign student travel services, or by writing directly to STB Hostel. In Hong Kong, you can call 71-09-199 for a reservation. From the United States, call 011-852-71-09-199.

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