I have always been pretty bad at languages. Took 12 years of French in school and the only thing I can say directly translates to “the ingredients in this dish are not healthy”. Pretty ironic because everything I eat is unhealthy. Cough Eating lasagna for a breakfast cough.
Anyways, back to the main point. I have barely made it through high school French, tried learning Spanish multiple times and still failed, so I just gave up. Until I started travelling. Boy oh, boy did I suffer at first. Nonchalantly fanning myself while muttering “Estoy Caliente” in Spain, thinking I am all smart and knowledgeable….Trying to tell the waiter I need to sit inside by saying insido (Spanish is all about putting an o at the end of every word anyway, right?)…Giving money to the women who came up to me on the streets in Paris only to realise she was telling me my pants were unzipped…You get the point!
The point is, we’re all so fervently perched in our comfort zones, even when we travel! Traveling is all about breaking barriers, going far beyond your comfort zones, and having new experiences. And I bet it happened to you…Moving to a country where you don’t speak the language and being the person idiotly smiling and nodding at things you don’t understand all the time. The feeling of complete and utter loss/helplessness. We have all been there.
The secret is being able to speak some (no matter how little) of the local language to wherever you are travelling to. The proclamations you throw around every day, the endless bucket-lists and New Year’s resolutions. Forget about those, and get started now. No more “I’ll learn Russian one day”…No more “Everybody speaks English anyway”…Basically, no more excuses. . Despite the fact that there are a lot of ways you can practice language with native speakers on websites like Preply, it’s always rewarding to do so face to face and travel.
Naturally, travelling to a new country itself presents you with endless opportunities to learn the language and talking to locals is the best way to improve your fluency. There are countless ways you can learn a little bit of the word before you travel, but first, let’s see the benefits of doing so.
How Learning the Local Language Will Make Your Trip Better
Learn about new cultures
See, the thing about learning modern languages is that it helps you connect with the local culture better than any other guidebook or video. You might have heard a few things about the lifestyle, maybe even watched a show but nothing gives you an insider’s view better than actually being able to speak the language.
You will inadvertently learn about life, history, cuisine, etiquette and culture all by being able to converse with locals. I had a 30-minute conversation with an Italian on a sidewalk about religion and life – something that would have never happened if I had just loudly asked for directions in English.
Learning the local language is your gateway to exploration, to experiences, and to discoveries. Whether you are immersing yourself in the reflection of culture through writings and art, or just discovering what day to day life is like – you will come out a new person.
Meeting new people
Usually, when I travelled, I used to stay in hostels, hung out with fellow travellers, gravitated towards English speakers and stayed in my comfort zone. That all changed, however, when I experienced what it was like to hang out with the locals when I travel! Not only do you get to learn about their culture, but you also get to meet their friends, learn about their lives and necessarily open you up to new experiences!
It also massively improves your language learning skills. Despite the fact that there are a lot of ways you can practice the language with native speakers on websites like Preply, it’s always rewarding to do so face to face.
You won’t ever need to be that awkward person at the end of the table smiling and nodding while agreeing to everything being said while simultaneously having no clue what’s being said.
Extra point: You won’t have to awkwardly flirt with strangers while putting together the three words of the local language you know.
Your brain will thank you for it!
They say that an apple a day keeps the doctor away, but so does learning a language! There are countless benefits to learning a new language, to your cognitive skills, your brain, your memory and much more. You know how we all hit the gym months before heading to vacation to look our best? Well, your mind essentially needs training too! Get those muscles geared up and learn a language.
Impress your friends while ordering
Who hasn’t thought of implausible scenarios where you do something incredible, and you imagine everyone around you impressed/stunned/applauding you? We’ve all been there. Make that dream a reality and casually order that omelette du fromage in the perfect pronunciation while simultaneously impressing everyone.
The locals will treat you better.
Locals love when you try and converse in their language. They will respect you more knowing that you’ve taken the time to learn their language. More often than not, when we speak to locals in their language, they realise we are not locals and end up talking back in English. Politely tell them that you’re trying to learn the language, and they’ll be delighted to help!
Unlock hidden gems
If you’re searching for a more authentic experience when you’re travelling, you won’t find it where the English signs are. Explore the unknown places behind significant tourist traps, talk with locals, get lost in alleys, wander around and relish the authenticity. You won’t need your eyes glued to a map, and you won’t have to worry about getting lost and not understanding signs.
In case of emergency
Whether it’s a food allergy or an actual emergency – learning the local language will come in handy. You’ll be able to find yourself hospitals easier, converse with cabs, ask for help and so much more.
What to do to learn the language
Learning the language starts before travelling to the city. Whether you have a week, a month, or a year – you can use whatever time you have to learn a few things.
Before you get there
1. Set achievable goals.
First, start off by setting achievable goals. Where do you want to be in 3 months? Be specific!
2. Build vocabulary that is specific to you.
I know how to name at least 20 different animals in Spanish but can’t talk about myself. How does that help me? Thanks for nothing, countless language learning books! Research vocabulary and words that are specific to you. Think of what you usually say and learn that!
3. Learn your self-introduction in the language.
Who are you? What do you do? How old are you? What are you travelling for? There are so many conversation starters that you can use and learn the necessary vocabulary to keep up the conversation.
4. Practice every day.
Set aside 15 or 30 minutes of practice a day, and commit to them. You’ll see excellent results.
5. Switch all your devices to the new language.
Being surrounded by the language is a definite way to get you familiarised with some of an essential vocabulary and pronunciation. Turn on the subtitles to all your favourite series and movies and try to catch a few phrases.
Listen to music in the language, read books, get newspapers and watch series and movies.
When you’re there.
There are a few things you can do when you’re there to help you further improve your language.
- Join a meet-up. There are endless international meet-ups in all countries where you get to exchange language learning with other people.
- Couch-surf at a local’s house! Not only will you get to make friends and see the city like a local – but you’ll also pick up o the language!
- Focus on the context. Whether you’re in a supermarket or at the club, try to pick up on the most-used phrases or words in these settings and use them!
There are practically endless of benefits that you get by learning a language. Getting new job opportunities, making new friends, impressing others, boosting your brain power and much more. However, the most important of them is that your travel adventures will be much more exciting than before. You’ll be seeing the cities you travel to in a completely different light!