Today we are very lucky to have Shannon Kennedy from Eurolinguiste writing for us about the main reasons to learn a language before travelling. She also included 10 useful resources to help you get started! Enjoy!
When we announce our intent to visit a new country, one of the first questions we’re often asked is, “Do you speak the language?” The answer for many, unfortunately, is “no.”
But why do we avoid learning the languages of the places we plan on visiting? One of the most common excuses I’ve heard when it comes to learning a language for travel is “I’m sure they speak English.” It’s simple enough of a response, and often true, but if that’s the approach you take when it comes to your next trip, you’re surely missing out on an amazing experience! Even though English has increasingly become the lingua franca for the tourist industry in popular destinations, learning a little bit of the language for your next trip can make it that much more enjoyable.
Here are just a few reasons why:
1. In case of emergency.
If you have a food allergy (peanuts, shellfish, etc.) or a medicine allergy (penicillin), it’s good to know how to tell a doctor about this if something comes up and you find yourself in the hospital or in a doctor’s office. Even if your symptoms are unrelated to your allergy, it can prevent you receiving a treatment that is.
If it’s a food allergy, it’s also helpful to know how to ask the waiter “Does this item on the menu have ____ in it?” That way you can eat and enjoy your meals without the fear of eating something that you shouldn’t!
2. It permits you to explore your travel destinations beyond the resorts and tourist traps.
If you spend the time to learn the language, you can enjoy your trip like a local, exploring places that aren’t crawling with hundreds or even thousands of tourists (or you might even find little known, but better views of them like I did in Paris).
You can also find better priced and better tasting foods if you feel comfortable exploring beyond the well-known tourist areas. We recently did this during our trip to Spain and we ate an incredible meal at an incredible price just outside of the more frequented areas in Barcelona.
3. You can make friends and get to know people around the world.
Speaking the language can provide you with a way to get to know people you’d never otherwise have the opportunity to speak with. Sometimes those relationships turn into friendships, and other times they’re nothing more than a lively conversation. Either way, you’re creating unique and memorable experiences that you’ll appreciate long after you’ve returned home.
When traveling abroad, we err on the side of caution. We’re not able to ask the questions we need in order to feel comfortable if we don’t speak the language. This can lead to us missing out on incredible experiences just because we were unable to communicate our concerns.
Not only that, but an inability to understand the language around you can be risky. You’re more likely to catch that something fishy is going on if you can understand what those around you are saying. And if you understand what’s going on around you, you’ll feel more comfortable in the environment you’re visiting.
As further evidence of how far knowing another language can go, a study published by the New York Times stated that “The key difference between bilinguals and monolinguals may be more basic: a heightened ability to monitor the environment.” Knowing two languages can make you safer because you grow more aware of your environment.
5. You’re not just traveling to another place, you’re experiencing it.
When you approach someone – even staff at a store or restaurant – in a language that isn’t their own, you’re creating a barrier. Making even a small effort to communicate in the language of the place you’re visiting can go a long way and you’ll find many more doors open to you in result.
A Little Goes a Long Way
This, of course, isn’t to say that you need to learn everything there is to know about the language before making your trip, but a little bit can go a long way. Depending on the duration of your trip, your needs may vary
– It’s up to you to decide how much of the language you want to learn and how much you’d like to immerse yourself in the local culture.
At the very least, we suggest knowing:
Basic greetings (“hello”, “goodbye”, “how are you?”), how to ask if someone speaks your language (“do you speak _____”) and how to express that you don’t speak the local language (“sorry, I don’t speak _____”).
Polite expressions such as excuse me, please, and thank you can also be of great use – even if you just bump into someone while working your way through a crowd.
A Few Resources for Learning Enough of a Language to Enjoy Your Trip:
1. Lonely Planet Phrasebooks (<$10)
2. Memrise – Quick vocabulary study. (Free)
3.Duolingo – Limited in language options, but if you’re goal is to learn French, Spanish, Italian, German, or Portuguese, this is a great tool. (Free)
4. Antosch & Lin – Get a fantastic list of vocabulary and sentences sent to your inbox each day. (Free and paid versions)
5. Fodor’s Travel – A few basic phrases to get you started. (Free)
6. BBC for Languages – Another free resource for a variety of languages. (Free)
7. Coffee Break from Radio Lingua – For languages including Spanish and French. Available through iTunes. (Free)
For More in Depth Learning
1. Assimil – Learn to listen to and understand the language with this great audio and textbook.
2. Pimsleur – Get started with their affordable “Conversational” program, or invest a bit more to go further with your studies.
3. iTalki – Get practice in with a native speaker before heading to your destination.