3 Reasons Why It’s Good to Learn A Foreign Language Before Traveling

Alex Atkind's photo of travelers talkingNearly 75% of Americans lack any knowledge of a foreign language. Of those who do, many are foreign born, implying that the importance of such is not stressed in our national culture. Of course, many people around the world posses basic knowledge of English, especially those in business, given the prominence of the Western countries in worldwide economics. However, as the globe becomes flatter, with easier than ever access to foreign lands in which we are likely to interact with others outside of the business world, it is increasingly important to develop an interest in foreign language, and to take up learning such for personal development and travel.

Perhaps you don’t see the importance of investing time in language. As a traveler, you might stick around the tourist part of town with fellow English speakers, so you won’t have to be forced out of your comfort zone. If that is the case, I can assure you that your experience will be limited. Furthermore, why travel to an international destination only to commingle with people who share your same culture and/or identity? If you’re still not sold, consider these reasons below:

  1. Navigating
    Getting lost is frustrating. Yet, even with a cellphone and dozens of apps created to facilitate our everyday missions, we still find ourselves making a wrong turn or walking to the end of a street with no exit. Imagine doing so in a foreign place. Something as simple as the ability to read street signs or to ask for and understand directions is an invaluable asset that will greatly enhance your experience. Otherwise, you may find yourself limited to one small street for fear of not being able to find your way back to the hotel. 
  2. Making Friends
    Also, using the language of the country you’re visiting helps you better connect with the residents. You may find that people around the world are quite friendly and very willing to help. However, even the most helpful person may be reluctant to communicate freely, or unable to do so in a way that fosters a valuable relationship. Don’t miss out on potentially lasting friendships with people abroad simply because of language barriers. Of course, you don’t have to be a scholar, but a basic understanding of their vocabulary, expressions, and customs can open a world of doors. 
  3. Shopping
    Every true traveler enjoys the experience of finding authentic goods in the country he or she is visiting. For some, the goods may be for a personal collection. For others, it may be a promised souvenir for a loved one. Either way, some of the best places to shop are street markets, like the famed Souks of Marrakech. There, haggling or negotiating price is a standard practice that is a common part of the overall transaction. It’s expected. An inability to do this may not only result in being overcharged, you may actually offend the seller. You could take a guide along, but doing it yourself allows you to truly immerse yourself in the culture.

Check out this blog from Nomadic Matt, which provides four simple steps for grasping the basics of any language. Also, there are ton of free resources right on your computer or smartphone, such as Duolingo, to help you get started.

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