Why knowing other languages is handy when travelling.

When we reminisce about our travels it is usually the headliners that come to mind first: that first glimpse of the Taj Mahal; the chiming of the astronomical clock in Prague; breathing in the stench of the Chouara tannery in Morocco.

We forget all the minor, trivial things that we love about travelling, such as sampling the local cuisine, spending a foreign currency, or attempting to speak a different language.

I love languages though, they’re one of my favourite parts of travelling. I love learning them, hearing others converse in them and attempting to speak them myself.


Many of us think learning a foreign language is too difficult, too time consuming or too boring (or all three). We think it requires years of patience and painful effort, expensive books and classes, subscriptions to the likes of Language Trainers or Rosetta Stone. And worryingly, a lot of us are of the belief that learning a foreign language is a waste of time, since “everybody speaks English anyway.”

Not me though. I definitely think knowing another language (or two) is an advantage when travelling. As well as helping you out of all sorts of tricky situations, being able to communicate in the local language can actually make travelling more fun…


Learning a foreign language isn’t “all Greek”.

Though I started learning French at the age of 11, it wasn’t until I was older and started to travel more that I finally understood the importance of language.

I actually did a French degree as part of my university course, however I’ll be the first to admit that my pronunciation and grammar is probably not as au fait as it was back then. But as well as French, I also studied Spanish and German at secondary school.

Though by no means fluent in either, I can understand enough Spanish to know that when I order “tortillas” in a restaurant, I’m not going to get a packet of Doritos, or if someone tells me they’re unwell and have “constipado”, they just need a packet of tissues and some Nightnurse, rather than prune juice and laxatives.

Learning languages does come easier to some than others, I appreciate that. But it’s really not as difficult as some people believe – you just have to be willing.

My dad, who hadn’t been on a plane until he was in his 40s, is a great example: a few years ago he taught himself basic Italian using those CDs that come free with the Daily Mail. Fast-forward a couple of months and he booked a seat on a plane to Milan and took himself off to watch his beloved Tottenham FC versus Inter. Once he arrived he bought a ticket from a tout and sat happily amidst the home team, proudly supporting Spurs and speaking the little Italian he knew with the locals. He had a great time.


When knowing the language has helped…

If you’re currently reading this thinking “What’s the point in speaking French or learning German? Everyone knows English anyway.” then I urge you to think again. There have been so many occasions over the last few years where knowing a foreign language really has been handy. For example:

  • When negotiating taxi rates and making sure I wasn’t short changed when travelling solo around Cartagena, Colombia.
  • When haggling down the cost of a handmade leather pouffe while in the Medina in Fez, Morocco.
  • Being able to understand what things are on the menu, and translating for my travel comrades.

There are also times when knowing the language would have helped…

  • That time I went in search of the Skywalk in Dolní Morova but didn’t know a word of Czech, so didn’t realise the chairlift at the top of the mountain would shut at 4pm (resulting in my friend Solo and I being stranded, and consequently falling down aforementioned mountain).
  • That time my friend TJ and I went on a jeep safari in Turkey, where everything was explained in Turkish (resulting in us getting absolutely soaked, as we didn’t know that the entire “safari” would be one big water fight against rival jeeps).
  • That time my friend Hannah and I went to Rhodes and took a boat trip to St Paul’s Bay, and I was given a piece of paper to sign before boarding (turned out I’d signed myself over as second in command and captain of the boat should anything happen to the real captain/pirate).

My language skills have helped me out all around the world. Between English, French and Spanish there have been few places where I haven’t been able to at least get a rudimentary message across. Obviously there are exceptions, but this just makes me keener to learn more languages. Polish or Russian maybe?

One thing is for certain, the time and effort I have invested into learning new languages hasn’t just made travel easier for me, it’s made it a lot more fun.


Do you speak a second (or third, fourth) language? Has it helped you on your travels? Let me know in the comments below.

121 thoughts on “Why knowing other languages is handy when travelling.

  1. I am very honored to say that I speak several languages, at least to be able to move through the countries I visit.
    French, I only studied it two years in the school, but I lived a year in Paris to finish my degree in law, and that helps a lot.
    English, I studied it from an early age, and I continue to study it. I can never say that I know how to speak English well, especially the accent, haha.
    Italian, I speak italian but I never studied it. In addition, it is very similar to Spanish.
    Russian, I studied a year of Russian and I loved it.
    I think I could speak more languages if I proposed.
    It’s something that enriches the person. And of course, the Google translator helps a lot, haha.

  2. I am bilingual but I firmly believe that we should make the effort to even learn a few basic phrases native to the place we are visiting too. I think it is polite and shows respect x

  3. It’s so true it broadens the mind and in this day an age we all should know another language, I wish I learnt one but I suppose it’s never too late

  4. I totally agree, I grew up bilingual and don’t know anything else. Currently learning a third language as well 🙂

  5. I absolutely agree! Learning a second language is very beneficial, especially for travelling. I currently only speak english, but I plan to travel soon, so I hope to have learnt a second language by then. I’d really like to learn french and german! ☺

    1. Good for you Megan, I really like your positive “can-do” attitude 🙂 You’ll be able to learn French and German easily, just gotta put your mind to it 😉 x

  6. A few years ago I went to a German zoo in Munich. I felt so bad as I couldn’t speak the language at all. I felt really awkward just saying a simple hello and thank you.
    So yes I do agree with this post. xx

  7. I love at least attempting to speak a new language when I am travelling. I think the effort is appreciated too.

  8. I took latin when i was in junior high, so that they gave me a good base when it comes to learning other languages. I took Spanish and French in high school and I’m currently trying to learn German because I’d like to move to Berlin next year.

  9. I agree with this completely – knowing languages is godsent while travelling. We struggled while travelling in South America, so I’m learning Spanish for our second trip there 🙂

  10. I don’t properly speak another language although having learnt French at school I know enough to read menu’s in French and pick up basics like road signs. I always try and at least learn thank you in their language x

    1. I think learning basic phrases like “please” and “thank you” in another language is really good – the locals will appreciate that you’re making the effort 🙂 x

  11. I honestly wish I could speak other languages. I can speak bits and bobs of French and Spanish but definitely not fluent! It’s always on my to-do list but I never get round to it. 🙁 I really should!
    Ashton xx

  12. I love Spanish but I think I’d need to live there for a couple of months to be able to speak it fluently. Love learning languages x

  13. Learning different languages definitely does help. I speak English, Spanish, and I’m learning French, but at work we get a lot of tourists that speak only Spanish, sometimes French or Creole. I’m the first one my co-workers go to if they legitimately have no clue what the customer wants. Learning languages helps so much even when you’re not traveling.

    1. This is really true, and reminds me of when I was a waitress back when I was 16 – the town I lived in used to have a French continental market that used to come over from Calais a few times a year. They would all stay and eat in the hotel/restaurant where I worked, and none of my co-workers wanted to go and take their orders, so it was always me that had to go over and speak to them in French! x

  14. I love languages, I am an ESL teacher so I am always happy to hear that someone appreciates the fact that learning new languages can open many doors.

  15. These are great tips. There are countries where its citizen hardly understand or speak English. Whenever I travel abroad, I take with me my pocket translator for common conversational phrases like asking for directions, saying thank you, etc. Aside from English, I can speak and understand some French, Spanish and Mandarin Chinese. 🙂

  16. Whenever we travel, we always try to learn a few basic phrases and words of the place we’re going to. If the locals can see that we’re trying, they’re more than willing to help us fill in the gaps

    1. I think that’s the key Alison – as long as we show a bit of effort, then the locals don’t mind helping out a foreigner with the language. I have to confess though, on my trip to Cyprus I didn’t speak any Greek 👎🏻😔 x

  17. I wish, I wish so very much i could speak more than one language. I can barely speak English half of the time, but i wish to travel and feel like it would be really useful to at least have a grasp of the language. Even when i hopefully emigrate i hope to grasp of it wherever i end up.

  18. I try to learn words of various languages when I go away and even phrases where I can as it does help if you try. Most people hate it when people assume that they can speak English.

  19. I speak fluent french as my second language, and dabble in several others. I do agree that it’s so helpful! x Thanks for sharing x
    Lots of love,
    Marina Rosie xx

  20. I always think it is super important to at least attempt to speak the country you’re visitings language. If not you look ignorant and somewhat vulnerable. I wish I could speak better French though.

    1. I couldn’t agree with you more Annie – my French is good, as is my Spanish. But on my recent trip to Cyprus I couldn’t understand or speak any Greek, I felt so bad 🙁 x

  21. I enjoyed reading this! I agree that knowing another language does help when traveling. I know some Spanish but would love to be fluent. When I went to the Dominican they were very friendly and loved helping me practice. I think they actually appreciate others trying to speak their language. I could only imagine how exhausting it could be to steady have to speak to someone that comes to your country in a language you don’t know all that well.


    1. That’s so great that they helped you practice – I was like that in Mexico with the barman in our hotel, although he himself was Argentinian and the dialects are slightly different lol x

  22. I live in a state where there is a lot of Spanish speakers and I have picked up a variety of words and phrases and it sure makes life easier being able to communicate with them! I took a few years of French in High School and College and wish I could remember and use more of it! : )

    1. It’s great that you’ve picked up some Spanish from the new Spanish speaking locals in the area – and learning their language has probably helped welcome them in to a predominately English speaking state. It will help if you ever visit any Spanish speaking countries too! x

  23. Oh my goodness, I hope nothing happened to the captain of the boat! I speak a tiny bit of French after doing it for A Level many moons ago – I loved it and used to read books in it, but only have very basic conversation skills now. I wish I had kept it up really.

    1. Hahaha! No, thankfully nothing happened to him – he did pick me up and throw me over the side though, which I didn’t know he was going to do because I couldn’t understand what he was saying! x

  24. Thank you for sharing your language journey, I bet you never dreamed that Spanish would lead you to haggle with taxi drivers in Cartegena. I’m a member of the Michel Thomas school of language tuition – everyone can learn languages with the right teacher.

  25. Use it or lose it! That’s what happens if you fail to listen/speak in the language you’re trying to learn. My first language was Italian and I took Spanish in High School and College. I am now trying to recapture my fluency. I’m listening to books on tape and news reports. I believe we need to learn to speak like children do — by using it and listening to others.

  26. I agree that it’s so important to at least learn a few words in the language of the country you’re visiting. It’s not hard to learn how to say please and thank you, and that goes a long way wherever you are.

  27. Thanks for the great tips. I’m going to Europe for the first time in the fall, and this gives me more confidence that I will be able to communicate. Great job !

  28. You bet knowing other languages helps a lot. I speak Spanish, English, French and Portuguese so I do appreciate and feel blessed that I am able to communicate when I travel.

  29. I’d love to learn another language, I think it would really help with travelling abroad too. I keep meaning to look at these online courses to have a go.

  30. I couldn’t agree more, speaking more than your native language not only it helps you while traveling other countries, but it enlarges your culture.

  31. I studied French, German and Spanish for a couple of years at Uni. It was so beneficial not just in travelling overseas, but in terms of understanding English and origin of language too. Such a valuable skill and I hope my children learn another language too.

  32. I attended French lessons from the age of 3. It really helped me as a child who visited France every year and now again as an adult. All my children are learning languages as well. One is very into learning and is learning 3 at the minute which is fabulous 🙂 x

  33. I really want to learn another language but have always really struggled – I lived in France for a few months but despite really trying hardly picked up any, the same happened when I lived in Amsterdam. I still try though

    Laura x

  34. I’m afraid that although I come from a bilingual country I only speak one language with any fluency. I wish I knew more of other languages, but I know enough to get by.

  35. I don’t speak another language, but I wish I did. It would be such a huge help in my travels. I think it’s time I learned!

  36. Such great travel tips!! Language is so important- and the more you know the more you can communicate.
    I remember going to Ecuador a while ago with my mom and I was able to be much more social than her there

  37. I took Spanish throughout school and for few semesters in college. I should be much better at speaking it than I am. I had a hard time retaining some of it. I’d like to learn German too.

  38. I think of us as “unofficial ambassadors” to a host nation when traveling abroad. I think it’s important to uphold a certain standard of just being a nice person, and part of that is trying to learn bits of their language.

  39. I do speak fluently 3 languages and I can get around with 2 more (aren’t Latin languages the best?). I agree that it’s so much easier to travel when you do speak the local language. Even if you just pick up a few words, it will still make a difference on how the locals will treat you.

  40. I would love to be able to confidently speak another language. I speak a little French and Spanish, but wish I knew more

  41. This is so important. I took a lot of Spanish but I am nowhere near fluent. When I went to Itlay, I tried to learn a little beforehand and could pick out some words with my Spanish. I would love to really learn a couple of other languages. I am starting with Spanish with a goal of fluency this time!

  42. This is such a great post and very informative as well. I totally agree with everything you’ve cited on this post, knowing a little bit of other languages or the one that we are traveling is really a great handy it many ways.

  43. I think it is bit unneccessary to study their language since we have engkish that can be used I think worldwide. But sometimes it is better to understand so atleast it can helo us a little when going to another Country.

  44. Knowing languages is definitely helpful!!!! I always try to learn a few basics when I travel so I can at least read simple signs etc

  45. I only know one language. I think I could probably muddle my way through spanish of french but probably not well. If I plan to travel anytime in the future I will def be investing in a class to learn.

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