Language, beyond the obvious use as the primary communication mechanism between people, is one of the most important parts of culture globally. Language carries reference and meanings beyond itself. The meanings in the language characterize the culture of a particular people or place. As a traveler, to truly interact with a culture, you must utilize the language. For travelers who want to take a deeper dive, you must understand language in order to understand culture because of their inextricable linkage and intimate connection.
As someone who has traveled a lot and lived for most of my adult life overseas, I can tell you that language is not 100% necessary for travel, but for many (myself included) language is a motivation to travel. Here are six reasons why picking up a language (even just a few key phrases) can make the difference between a good and a great trip?
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Language and culture are intimately connected. Learning a language helps the traveler appreciate a new culture in ways you wouldn’t be able to otherwise. Whether it is immersing yourself in local daily life or taking in the works of a country’s famous literary giant, knowing some of the local languages puts you on the inside track of the country you are visiting. When you travel abroad only speaking English your experience is only the tip of the iceberg! There is so much more below the surface and language is the key to accessing the more deeply rooted treasures.
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Many travelers balk at the thought of having to learn a whole new language for what they hope will be a restful and battery-recharging trip. First, don’t worry and keep things in perspective; the goal isn’t to learn enough language to speak fluently but rather to learn only enough to get by. You want to be able to order your own food, call your own uber/taxi, buy your own entry to the sites and places you wish to visit, etc. The good news is many of these basic and common phrases can be found in any travel guide worth its salt and most include a very useful pronunciation guide.
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If you are passionate about a travel destination and really want to understand cultural nuances and the interesting quirks that make a place unique, then language is your ticket. If you truly want to take in the atmosphere of a place, raise a glass and toast a friend, laugh at a joke or tell one, find out the many cool and off-the-beaten path places the locals frequent (which are ALWAYS way better), a language will only up the ante on the fun!
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Traveling can already be stressful enough without dealing with the slings and arrows lack of language ability present. Being able to ask for directions, read a sign, find the nearest bathroom after a long day of sightseeing will make knowing a language invaluable. Thankfully, it doesn’t take much to learn the basics that will not only save you time but also money on vacations that are already too short and too costly.
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In my experience and something I’ve found to be universally true, is that people REALLY appreciate the effort you put into learning their language. Your willingness to learn a language demonstrates that you genuinely want to learn and explore their country, history, and culture and that you are there for more than just pictures and selfies.
Language is Something You Can Do
These days there are so many free language apps, YouTube tutorials, and free online language resources, that make learning languages totally accessible and cost-free. There are also more traditional ways to learn languages (think formal institution-based language programs or Rosetta Stone) available, so choose the way or ways that works best for you. On the go, or at home, language learning is right at your fingertips anytime you need it, before, during, and after your trip.
Once you’ve booked your tickets, get started on your language learning. The only investment you need to make is your time and the rewards for your investment will go far beyond your trip. Learning a language is the secret for taking your travel experiences from good to great. Good luck and go travel!