My downstairs neighbors who don't speak Dutch or English, have water damage. They have a moist, smelly, moldy wall for over half a year now.

They think the leakage comes from my place. But I had a plumber look at it, and it's coming from upstairs neighbors. So there is nothing I can do, and they should contact the upstairs neighbors.

Because of the language barrier, I can't seem to convey this message:

  1. I told my downstairs neighbors that they should contact the upstairs neighbors.
  2. I pointed where the leakage should be in my place, and then pointed to the door of upstairs neighbors.
  3. I used google translate to write a letter in Polish with a link to the original, so they can translate it themself (as I am not 100% sure they are Polish)

After the first two attempts they knocked on my door after a few days, saying that the problem was still not solved. After the third attempt I did not hear from them for several months. We did see each other those past months, but they never mentioned it in that time.

But last weekend they were back, mentioning something about a washing machine. Which sounds to me like they still don't understand that the leakage is not coming from my place.

some extra info

  • My upstairs neighbors are also foreign, so asking them to get in contact with downstairs, sounds like an equal challenge.
  • As far as I understand, they bought the house. So I can't contact their landlord.

How can I overcome the language barrier, to make it clear to foreign neighbors that I can't help them?

  • Don't they speak English? How are they surviving there in the Netherlands as foreigners? This is weird!
    – kavigun
    Sep 23, 2022 at 8:33
  • As far as I understand, they been living here for 9 years. I geus they live in there own bubble and normally never have to communicate with any one else. But I do have trouble wrapping my head around it. Sep 23, 2022 at 9:48
  • But, still, they must be visiting grocery stores to fetch groceries for these many 9 years, must have visited doctors/medical stores for their health in your country, they must have communicated with all these people, right? You say they are living in their own bubble how did they manage all these things for 9 years? I am sure they must have been communicating in some fashion. Have you tried talking to them?
    – kavigun
    Sep 23, 2022 at 13:38
  • Laptop or phone with Google translate. Admittedly the least "interpersonal" solution possible :-)
    – gnasher729
    Oct 12, 2022 at 9:19
  • If they bought the house, are they then your landlord? Jan 13, 2023 at 0:26

3 Answers 3


I own rentals, which entails doing a bit of property management, so I had the same issue.

Maybe they don't speak any language you speak, but they know someone who does. They got into the place and signed up for water and power, which involves paperwork in the local language, so they had to have help. All you have to do is find a way to tell them you'd like to speak with one of their friends who speaks Dutch or English. You can use an online translation service for that, it'll be much easier than translating plumbing issues.


Your problem comes from the fact that you could not identify their native language. So, any attempt will mostly end the same way, with mutual misunderstanding.

When I was traveling around the world, having worked with or met people who could not understand me, and neither could I understand them, I quickly found a way to communicate. When in a country, you know the language spoken by the people. If you meet a foreigner like you, and don't find a common ground (such as english), I was showing the place, or "speaking with my hands" (like when you show someone walking with your fingers, or eating...etc). It seems that this isn't an option for you, as you already showed them without success (your bullet-point #2).

In my case, when in doubt, I was showing my country flag (passeport, ID) and pointing my finger to them ("where are you from?"). This could be a good start if you happen to "talk" to them again. When you know the country/language (which, as this point, seems your major issue), it's much easier to use a translator.

I did that too. My advice is then to be very careful, and use small sentences, with simple words, so that the translator doesn't convey false ideas. Talk to the translator as if you were talking to a kid, it makes the conversation between the two of you much more simpler.

I never had very stubborn or difficult people/situation to deal with, so it wasn't that hard. But your situation isn't so different from a communication problem between foreigners. 1. identify their country/language (seems the key) 2. use simple words to convey simple ideas with the help of a translator.


Once I needed something in Russian. (It was a notice to the truck drivers who park in our area. I got it in German and English too.)

I asked around at work until I found a native Russian lady who very kindly translated it for me. I rewarded her with some chocolates. I hung up the notices and the truck drivers took notice of it.

So you need to ask around until you find someone who can translate for you. You can do it all in writing, but better if they can find time to visit you and your neighbours and get it all sorted. This will get your problem fixed and help make good relations with the neighbours.

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