Language for Travel: Is learning worth the effort?
Here are the points on how learning a new language for travel benefits you.
Learning a new language has proven to have various benefits. From the biological part of training your brain and improving memory, to helping in landing a job abroad, being multilingual opens doors to far stretched opportunities. Aside from this, learning a new language also has its benefits when it comes to travelling. Knowing the language of the country you’ll be visiting can positively impact the trip as a whole.
Benefits of Learning a New Language for Travel
1. You won't look like an idiot.
When you visit a non-English-speaking country, you have two choices: learn the local language or risk looking like a fool.
Maybe this situation has already happened to you.
You were at the market and the seller was talking to you and smiling at the same time. You didn't get much (if anything) of what they were saying, but you smiled back because that's all you could do.
This uncomfortable feeling is one you want to avoid and that should motivate you to learn at least the basics of the language of the country you're travelling to.
2. It's the doorway to better understanding a culture.
The heart of culture lies in the hands of the locals and the events and beliefs they maintain, and a language reflects a lot about the societal colours of its native speakers. By learning a new language, you will get a better understanding of the people who speak it and their culture. For instance, you will learn the food they eat or how respect is expressed.
Knowing the language also shows you have taken the time to learn the traditions and culture. Yes, you can read, hear, and think about a culture, but the best way to experience a culture deeply is to speak its native language. Isn’t that one of the obvious underlying reasons for travelling in the first place? To see, hear, taste, touch, feel, and create memories that bring happiness upon reminiscence, which will provide a sense of learning and self-growth that no amount of books can give.
Not only that. With learning culture comes learning behaviours and a level of appropriateness in that culture. This helps in not making any mistake that might potentially bring in trouble, or doing something that is considered disrespectful.
Once you learn to communicate with locals, you learn about their lifestyles, hopes for the future, and how they became the people they are now. Hopefully, this understanding will diminish your prejudices. You come to understand that these people are more than an embodiment of a stereotype. They are individuals with stories.
3. Learning the local language will make life easier.
In a country where few natives speak English, not learning the local language is a recipe for a hard life. So, learning the basics will make travel so much easier, turning it into a fun and memorable experience. It can be of great help, whether it’s for reading signs or asking your way – it saves you from the likelihood of getting lost in a foreign country. Apart from that, knowing phrases and words in the local language enables you to confidently check into a hotel, order food in a restaurant, and better yet negotiate a cheaper price at the market.
... And remember that you don’t have to be fluent, you just need enough to get by.
4. Locals appreciate you “trying” to learn their language.
Everyone likes it when people show an interest in them. Learning the local language is the ultimate way to show you care about the local people and culture. When you show that you care about another’s way of life, you show that you are a compassionate, thoughtful person. This display of empathy opens all kinds of doors.
You’re more likely to have support when you need it. When people see you’re genuinely trying to speak their language, they’re more than happy to help you find your way when you’re lost, order the food you want, or meet new friends. They may even buy you a drink!
Locals generally love helping out foreigners on their language journeys. It’s a fun way to bond and build rapport. Even if you’re still a total beginner or your accent is weak, the natives will appreciate your effort. That you’re not just another tourist obsessed with taking the perfect Instagram photo. But you’re now becoming a local yourself.
Whether you want it or not, it's sometimes hard not to be branded as a tourist, because of the colour of your skin, the shape of your eyes, your accent, or whatever it is. You can't always change that. What you CAN do, however, is not to be branded as a self-centred tourist. And you won't, if you try to initiate the conversion in the local language. Even if you end up saying you don’t speak it, locals will appreciate the effort and be happy about it.
5. You'll get yourself out of trouble more easily.
In some countries, when you don't speak the language, it's like there is "tourist" written on your forehead and merchants will automatically try to scam you. It's the same when you visit touristic areas or want to buy something. If you try to bargain in English, you're starting with a disadvantage.
Once in China, a traveller was glad he got a bunch of fruits for half the price that the vendor asked for in the first place. But his local friend told him that it was still way above what he was paying for. But because he was persistent in learning at least the conversational language, by the end of his stay, he was able to haggle in Chinese and the retailers were more inclined to settle for a smaller price.
6. Learning a new language allows you to explore local spots.
Your new language skills will allow you to have local knowledge of the country you’ll be visiting. This will give you the best holiday if you want an authentic local experience. You’ll be using your new language to discover all the finest hidden places and attractions of your holiday destination (besides the touristy spots and landmarks, of course). There’s nothing like discovering a country’s national uniqueness and feeling the local traditions.
7. Language creates new connections.
Travelling introduces a lot of diversity, which lies within the people and their actions more than the place itself. Getting to know the native people that you might never again come across holds an excitement that just can’t be missed. Making friends from a foreign land, isn’t that a pride for a traveller? Having connections with a variety of people from a land that’s not your own. What better way to have a genuine understanding of a person than by talking to them in their language.
8. Learning a language for travel allows you to meet people who you never would have met otherwise.
The world is filled with amazing people. But not all of these people speak English. If you have the language skills necessary for daily communication, you’ll open up your ability to talk to thousands of new people. Chat with your taxi driver. Make small talk with the store clerk. Get to know the man who sits next to you on a long train ride.
Once you learn the local language, the people you meet every day have the potential to become your new business partner, best friend, or soul mate. That’s pretty thrilling! And, again, you don’t need to be fluent to get started.
9. Your brain will thank you for it.
Ask yourself: Do you want to become a more attractive, intelligent, and marketable human?
Perhaps you would say a resounding “Yes!”
Memory improvement is only one of the benefits that come with learning a new language, yet that one alone is a great incentive, isn't it? Picking up a new language stimulates some parts of your brain more intensively, making it more efficient. It's like working out: when you train your body regularly, it gets stronger. Learning a second language also reduces the risk of age-related cognitive decline. It means that your brain ages slower and you're at least postponing, if not eliminating, diseases like Alzheimer.
As your brain develops these skills, your confidence levels will skyrocket. And who doesn’t like being confident?
10. Language is a chance to keep meeting native speakers when your trip is finished.
You might think, “Why waste time learning Danish? I’m only going to be in Copenhagen for two weeks!”
But the more you travel through the years, the more opportunities you’ll have to whip out these language skills and meet new people.
If you speak a multi-national language such as Spanish or French, you’ll be able to apply the skills you learned in one country to every other place where people speak that language. And let’s say you’re back home and see a Spanish person struggling to communicate in English. If you speak Spanish, you can help them out just like Spanish people helped you on your trip. Assist them in hailing a taxi, ordering food, or figuring out where they need to go.
As a speaker of another’s local language, you’re now instantly able to befriend thousands of people all around the world. The more proficient you become in this language, the more you can reach out to people across the globe.
11. Meeting new people becomes a piece of cake.
Knowing that you can understand the basics and babble a few words yourself is usually enough to boost your confidence abroad. And confidence is all you need to go out and meet people. Besides, addressing people in their language will instantly win them over to your side.
12. Learning a new language benefits you in the business world, too.
The more languages you have under your belt, the more marketable you become in this increasingly global business world. Having language skills on your resume will make potential employers take notice.
If you're travelling abroad for a longer-term, you might consider getting a job there. There may be a few multinationals' offices around, where you'd have your chances. But a sure way to improve the odds is to speak the local language.
The same goes for small jobs. They often require a minimum of interaction with other people, when it's not directly with customers. Demonstrating that you're good with the rudiments will greatly help.
Being Travel Fluent
You don’t need to be fluent in a language to have unique interactions, but you can be fluent enough for travel.
Being travel fluent means you’re familiar with enough of the language to get by in various travel-related situations. Travel fluency is knowing what to say, how to ask questions, and how to reply appropriately. Your grammar isn’t perfect and you don’t know everything by heart, but with the right building blocks, a smile, and a gesture or two, you’re fluent for travel.
As an engaged and intelligent traveller, make sure you get the chance of learning a new language for travel. Now maybe you can avoid being yelled at by strangers in public.