I have always loved travelling and have been captivated by foreign, distant cultures ever since I can remember. And I must admit that even now, each time I attempt to learn a new language, I have butterflies in my stomach just as if it was my first date.
The older I get, the more I see that learning a new a language is not only an irrational hobby of mine, but predominantly a subconscious, yet extremely practical, decision that I choose to make. Travelling around the world and being able to speak more than one language not only make my adventures easier, but make them so much more stimulating and fun!
Only Fluent Allowed?
I’ve witnessed this too many times. A person being afraid to speak a new language because the inability to speak fluently, or debate about history, politics or philosophy simply intimidates them. I mean, who wants to be humiliated and embarrassed by all the mistakes they make? Well, to be honest, I don’t really mind! For example, I only speak a little Thai, which to a ‘Farang’ like me, is an extremely difficult language to learn due to its tonal nature. I remember once during one of my trips to Thailand, instead of calling a person over, apparently I called them…’a smelly dog’. Which to me was an unnoticeable at the time mistake, but to the locals (fortunately!) seemed just like a really funny joke!
Would I love to speak Thai perfectly? Of course! But I believe the inability to speak the language fluently should never intimidate you. Simply knowing how to say ‘Sorry, I don’t speak your language’ or ‘is it dangerous?’ has helped me several times.
Learning just a few simple phrases before travelling abroad can be extremely beneficial to make your life much easier. I am sure you can see the advantages from a purely logistical approach. Navigating, getting on the right train, looking for landmarks…the list goes on. With just a little bit of preparation and language basics, you can save a lot of time and money, which in the end, is really worth the effort!
Well, what about the culture?
From my personal experience, I can tell you; learning a new language allows you to appreciate the country in ways you otherwise wouldn’t. And that’s definitely one of my favourite things about it all. Through language we learn the history, culture, cuisine, or customs of a country. Many times I was able to engage with people on a completely different level as I was not only perceived as the irritating tourist but as someone who at least tried to learn their language, if anything out of respect.
While I’m able to say a few sentences in Thai, I will never be able to read it. Saying ‘hello, how are you?’ and asking for some directions in Hindi or Japanese is all I can do at the moment but on the whole, it was definitely worth putting the time and effort learning these languages as it not only made my journeys and adventures easier, but also so much more exciting!