Learning a Language To Enhance Your Travel Experience

posted in: Planning | 14

When we recently traveled to Quebec City, there were a couple of occasions that we would have been in difficult situations had an English-speaking person not been there to assist us. For instance, at Le Tier Temps, a restaurant that we dined at, the entire menu was in French! Thankfully, our server spoke English well enough that she was able to describe the dishes to us. I’m sure we aren’t alone when it comes to facing language barriers while traveling. Sure, we can use apps on our phones to help translate things, but this really only goes so far.

Unfortunately, neither Justin or I speak any second languages. We realize that while traveling abroad, communicating solely in English means that we might be missing out on many great, new experiences. We can only get a limited perspective of a new place if we are unable to talk to the locals and engage personally with their cultures. If you are planning on sticking to the hot tourist spots within a city, then knowing only English will probably be fine. However, being mono-lingual restricts communication with different people and limits your understanding of new places and cultures.

Knowing a foreign language isn’t just for some lucky or talented people. Nowadays, it is something that can be done by everyone and there are many resources out there to help you learn a foreign language. One of the best ways to practice a new language is to combine it with traveling. Not only will you be learning the language, but you will be able to fully immerse yourself in that language through everyday activities.

One agency specializing in such language trips is Sprachdirekt, who have just opened their English website. They specialize in “language holidays”, offering English, Spanish, French and Italian courses where you can not only choose the level and type of language course you wish to follow, but also choose from a wide range of activities offered by the language school. This way, you get the most out of your stay and get to practice the language at the same time. Sprachdirekt offers highly personable service and helps you through the process every step of the way. Whether you wish to do a beginner’s crash course or something more advanced, there are many language courses available in in fantastic destinations across the world, including England, Malta, the USA, France, Spain, Italy, South America or Oceania.

Perhaps Justin and I should consider attending a language course in the future so we can learn new ways of communicating as we slowly make our way around the world!

Do you know any second (or third) languages? Have you learned a new language while traveling before?

14 Responses

  1. Well actually, learning a second language was kind of what got me into traveling! I started studying German in school, and continued on with it in University to fulfill my language requirement, but then I really started to like it, and like my professors. It was in 2008 (I think?) that I first went abroad to Berlin with my German class, and that was when I make a decision to live in Germany! I will say, gaining intermediate fluency in German and being able to communicate with people on their level has given me confidence in learning other languages. While in Croatia, I picked up some Croatian, and was able to use it in stores or even with classmates or friends. I feel it is almost easier to learn when you are totally immersed and the language becomes practical. Before traveling though, I like to become familiar with a few basic phrases in the local language before I travel, because a little effort in the country will go along way to impress the locals and show respect for their culture. I am currently learning Persian, and I never thought I would have the interest to learn a language in another alphabet, but writing the alphabet is now my very favorite part of learning!
    What language are you thinking of learning? I of course recommend German because it is near and dear to my heart, but it is also very easy for English speakers to pick up, as English is a Germanic language. Plus, many more people in Europe than Germans speak German, I used German throughout Eastern and Northern Europe, and even in the north of Italy 🙂

  2. Katie
    | Reply

    Its so true that by not knowing the language you may miss certain opportunities. I definitely think its important to at least get some basics down before you get to your destination (hello, goodbye, please, thank you, bathroom). I spoke intermediate Spanish until this winter when I backpacked through Central America. Doing that increased my Spanish skills immensely! It was awesome! Now living in Korea, I am getting the hang of the language, but Asian languages are so much harder to learn!

  3. Jenna
    | Reply

    The language holidays sound really cool! I would love to do that! I wish I could speak another language, too–I really need to start learning one! I took a few semesters of French in college, but the only thing I can remember is how to read a menu actually! Anything else though, and I’m out of luck!

  4. Hannah
    | Reply

    So funny that you live only a few hours away from me and French is so unfamiliar there where here I struggled to find work because I’m not fully bilingual. Thankfully I can read that menu 😉 Learning a bit of the language is so important though, even little things like ‘thanks’- I feel like the locals are more appreciative of your effort than just expecting they speak English.

  5. Samantha
    | Reply

    I think it’s so important to learn a few words of the language that’s spoken in the country you’re traveling to, to at least be polite and plus it really does enhance your travel experience! I already speak 2 languages and picked up Spanish when I moved to Costa Rica and I was astonished at how many expats there that have lived in the country for decades and can barely say good morning. I’d love to go to France to work on my French though! I had no idea it was so different the French in Quebec and the French in France. So interesting !

  6. Sammi Wanderlustin'
    | Reply

    *Some* Spanish- having lived in the UK for 5 years now my Spanish becomes more rusty by the day! I am also hoping in the New Year to teach myself Dutch as I plan on living in the Netherlands for a month or so next year 🙂 I don’t speak French- but I can read that menu 😉

  7. jess meddows
    | Reply

    Oh boy, can I empathize with this right now! Shawn and I moved to Chiang Mai in Thailand about 4-5 days ago. There are plenty of good vegan and veggie restaurants, but trying to express my needs in a restaurant or cafe that does all types of food can be very tricky, and impossible at times – even when I say it in Thai! I’ve learnt how to say vegan, without egg, without oyster sauce, without fish sauce and without shrimp paste, but unless I can stick to a script it can get very confusing VERY fast.

  8. Anna
    | Reply

    In Chile, I learned Spanish to a reasonable level of efficiency… to the point where I could order food and make simple conversation and ask for help, etc. It helped that Spanish is similar to English and I took 4 years of it in High School, so some of it came back. And also, nobody spoke English in Chile so we were forced to communicate in only Spanish or play charades. It really helps when you’re forced to learn some words. We would jot down frequently used words and memorize them and learn to put together coherent sentences.

    I thought I’d learn some languages in Europe too, but I didn’t at all. Everyone spoke English to some degree there and so you tend to get lazy about wanting to learn.

    Oh! One really really good way I brushed up on Spanish also is with the free app Duolingo. It’s a fun language learning game, and you really do learn vocabulary and sentence structure. You mostly learn how to say common phrases, so it’s not just memorizing random words. I played that too for a couple of months before going to S. America. You should definitely check it out and start playing it to learn Italian before your trip (there are a lot of languages to choose from)!!

  9. Sam
    | Reply

    I was really lucky because at school I was able to study three foreign languages (French, German and Spanish), something which is now quite unusual in the UK. I used to think French was my strongest, but I haven’t used it for such a long time, I don’t know anymore. After almost a year in South America though, my Spanish is probably the best of the three, and my German is certainly getting put to the test every day here in Berlin (especially when it come to dealing with German bureaucracy!) I can’t imagine having travelled in South America only speaking English, but I think we would have had quite a different experience in several places, as we met plenty of people who didn’t speak anything but Spanish.

  10. Ron | Active Planet Travels
    | Reply

    I don’t speak any second (or third) languages fluently, but I try to make it a point to learn the basics for whatever area I’m traveling to. Of course, Chinese, Portuguese or anything too difficult just seems to go right over my head though! haha Looking forward to this trip to the Caribbean though; I’m wanting to pick up Spanish as I’m sure it’ll help with many of the regions we’ll be sailing to! 🙂

  11. Chanel | Cultural Xplorer
    | Reply

    I speak and understand Spanish pretty well although I have quite a ways to go to become fluent, however I started learning the language in middle school because it was a requirement, and then I fell in love with it and kept learning it for about seven or eight years. Now I only really get a chance to practice when I visit the woman who does my eyebrows, Spanish-speaking students or when I travel.

    I learned Korean for a little while when I lived in Korea for two years and although I learned basic things and the alphabet, I found the grammar to be extremely difficult to grasp and gave up. I do try to use the few words I know however when I visit Korea or when I am speaking to someone of Korean descent.

  12. Charlie
    | Reply

    We’ve been in Central America for 6 months and our Spanish is still so so shakey. I’m not great at language learning, but I always try my best to learn enough to get around wherever I am. Have you used language apps like DuoLingo and Memrise? I love DuoLingo, it’s a really fun way to learn.

  13. Fairlie
    | Reply

    I learnt French and German at school, but they are both pretty rusty now. I wish I had more opportunities day-to-day to speak them, as I think the constant use of a language is what you really need to become truly fluent. I learned Mandarin for a while at uni, but it’s totally gone now (and it was sooo difficult with all those characters to learn). We have been to Vietnam a few times and that is one language I know I wouldn’t have a hope of picking up.

  14. Chris Boothman
    | Reply

    I definitely found it beneficial that I know quite a bit of French when we went to both Paris and Quebec City! I am far from fluent but know enough to be able to hold a conversation or in the very least understand what people are saying/asking. I know a little German also but would likely struggle to hold any form of meaningful conversation. That’s the beauty of global traveling and English being such a prominent language. However, I will say that when you travel to another foreign country, it’s good to attempt to speak in their native language and at least it shows you are respecting them and attempting to converse rather than just assuming they will speak English!

Leave a Reply