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.

people-sign-traveling-blur

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. 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…

20161110_121212-01

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.

pexels-photo-121500

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.

90 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.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. 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! ☺

    Liked by 1 person

  3. 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

    Liked by 1 person

  4. 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.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. 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 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  6. 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

    Liked by 1 person

    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

      Like

  7. 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

    Liked by 1 person

  8. 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.

    Liked by 1 person

    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

      Like

  9. 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. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  10. 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

    Liked by 1 person

    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

      Like

  11. 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.

    Liked by 1 person

  12. 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.

    Liked by 1 person

    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

      Like

  13. 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.

    -Vera

    Liked by 1 person

    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

      Like

  14. 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! : )

    Liked by 1 person

    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

      Like

  15. 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.

    Liked by 1 person

    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

      Like

  16. 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.

    Liked by 1 person

  17. 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.

    Liked by 1 person

  18. 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.

    Liked by 1 person

  19. 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.

    Liked by 1 person

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s