If you’re a native English speaker, it’s easy to fall back on your mother tongue while traveling abroad: It’s the global lingua franca, especially in the realms of tourism and business. But while this strategy is certainly easy, many people don’t realize what they’re missing out on by only speaking English. If you want to move past the bland, tourist version of a culture, you have to dig in and speak to locals in their own language.
Here are our top reasons why learning some of the local language will give you a more rewarding experience, while also enabling you to travel like a pro.
When you think of traveling abroad, do you think of your desire to just see other cultures, or to really experience them? Sure, if you’re content to view the world through a tour bus window, knowing English will probably get you to and from your destinations. But if you want to experience the culture of other places without the pre-packaged tourist filter, then it’s vital to learn the local language.
Being able to talk with locals, even just a few phrases, can open up a whole new side of a city and culture. You can skip the long lines at the McDonald’s and the souvenir shops and instead spend time at hole-in-the-wall restaurants that are the local favorites. Locals are experts on their cities, and when you ask for their opinions, a world of authenticity presents itself to you. This could mean talking to people in a cafe or picking up a local paper to see what’s really going on in the city. Perhaps you’ll taste a dish not listed on the English menu or get invited to a secret party! Instead of being shepherded by tour guides looking to catch you (and your cash) in their tourist traps, your language skills allow you to travel without a guidebook and immerse yourself the way you always wanted to.
Make Friends Around The World
Speaking of locals: Sure, it’s nice to be able to ask strangers for directions, but wouldn’t it be better to actually make friends all over the globe? Making new and unique friends is one of the best perks of traveling, and it’s certainly easier when you speak the same language as someone. This advantage is especially useful if you plan to travel alone, because these new friends will bring dimension and excitement to your trip! Even if you’re traveling with someone else, having a local’s take on a night out will only enrich your memories together.
Plus, traveling authentically means that you can really engage with other people that you otherwise wouldn’t have met. You can ask them about their stories and their world-views, and try to understand them in a way you wouldn’t normally be able to. Learning another language opens up the experiences of millions of other people to you — now it’s just up to you to make the connection.
Enhance Your Love Life
Who says those connections have to be solely platonic? They always say, “There’s plenty of fish in the sea,” but think about how much bigger the ocean grows when you learn a language. We’re living in a global world, yet so much of our personal lives are wrapped up within a few blocks. Why not expand your horizons, and your dating life, to encompass a wider scope of possibilities and people? And perhaps an even more important point: people are rated as more attractive when they speak a second language (even more attractive than if they sport a six-pack). Now that’s a serious advantage whether you’re traveling abroad or looking for that special someone at home.
With all of our social media platforms and fancy translation apps, it would seem like the previous barriers of global communication were a thing of the past. Unfortunately, not only are translation algorithms still pretty faulty, but language barriers are still a very real thing — even in large metropolitan areas. If you go abroad only speaking English, you will undoubtedly have at least a few occasions where the other person doesn’t understand you, and where hand gestures just don’t cut it.
When you think of your daily life, you take the ease of speaking your native tongue for granted in completing little tasks. Buying the food you want or taking the right bus seems easy now, but it’s no cakewalk in a foreign country. Your hand gestures might not translate in another culture, or you could fall into making a humiliating faux pas with a false friend. Learning the local language saves you the embarrassment and the frustration of a language barrier on your otherwise amazing trip.
So whether you’re interested in experiencing other cultures off the tourist path, or you have a passion for connecting with people, or you simply want to ensure your time abroad is frustration-free, learning the local language can only improve your experience.