Without the basics of the local language, very good strategies. Strategies to get practical information you'll need to get along. Where to stay, what time the border closes, a good place to eat, buy gas, etc etc. Unfortunately, they are of very limited use to understand the place you're passing through and the people you meet. Language is a door to a culture, not just the best, it's THE major access. If you don't speak at least a little of the local language, through observation alone you will be able to open the door a crack. At most. You'll never reach the other side. Your understanding of what you observe will be little better than that of a small child's. Analogous to trusting your own observations when visiting Peruvian archeological ruins, you'll 'get' at most 5% of what you can learn from a good guide. (Unfortunately, many guides you'll find won't be English speaking. Although sometimes you can piggyback on an English language group.) On the other hand (there always is one)... If you're not fluent in the local language, it's probably better NOT to spend a lot of time with the majority of English speaking locals. (I can hear it already, I'm gonna get sht for this...!) On a typical trip spending no more than a few days in each place, you'd be very lucky to avoid the cross-cultural 'noise' imposed by locals' motivations for 'spiking Ingrish'. These are usually irrelevant to your interests in their culture. I think it's also a mistake to depend on the language ability of a riding partner. If you speak English, only, your language buddy will be very useful. Useful for practical day to day necessities. But speaking with him constantly in English, he will shield you from real contact with locals, the culture, the people. So what to do if neither fluent or reasonably conversant? Take a book on the history and cultures of the country. Learn a few basic words, phrases. I've never used them, but electronic translation gizmos and phrase books may also be worth a look. You MAY run into an English speaking local who shares your interests. It's a long shot, I'd say. But stay open to the remote possibility. Then head for the door if you're seen only as an opportunity for 'English practice', a chance to be seen with an exotic visitor, a source of info on American pop culture (movies, Hollywood stars), etc. To know, you gotta go. But by all means take along a few basic language tools.