When planning an international trip, the standard checklist includes booking flights, hotels, tours and restaurant reservations. But there’s one important thing you should do before packing your suitcase: learn the local language.
While 360 million people speak English worldwide, countries like China, Columbia, Russia, Brazil and Argentina are just a few examples of destinations that can be challenging to visit if you don’t speak any of the native languages.
The ability to communicate in a foreign country is an underrated skill that benefits travelers in many different ways. Here are three reasons you should become a globe-trotting polyglot.
#1 Talk Like a Local, Feel Like a Local
Experiencing a new culture is arguably the number one reason to visit a different country. If you’re the kind of traveler who wants to immerse yourself in new surroundings, speaking the language goes a long way. You don’t need to be fluent to be effective — in fact, simply learning the basics is enough to make a difference. For travelers, common phrases like “good morning” and “have a nice day” can make them feel part of this new world they’re exploring. For locals, this indicates that the traveler is passionate about, and respectful of, the culture. Smiles and pleasantries are exchanged, which can then lead to conversations.
The more of the language you learn, the more meaningful discussions you can have. Discover hidden gems by asking locals, “What’s your favorite restaurant that tourists don’t know about?” or “Is there a part of town we should be visiting?” Perhaps it’s more intimate questions like, “What do you love about living here?” Maybe you’ll learn their life story while having coffee at a café. The best souvenir you can take home from a trip is a newly-formed friendship. When you remove the language barrier, the possibilities are endless. All of these conversations become part of our memories when reflecting back on our travels.
#2 Prepare Yourself for Challenging Situations
One can always hope for a smooth, hassle-free trip abroad but that’s rarely the case. Maybe your rental car breaks down on the side of the road and there’s poor cell phone reception. Maybe you got a little too excited jumping into the ocean, and now you need to visit a doctor to sew up that deep cut on your foot. Maybe you have a food allergy that needs to be clearly articulated to waitstaff in a restaurant.
Even the simplest things like street signs can be written in totally different alphabets, without an English translation readily available. If you prefer to visit locations off the beaten path, as the further you travel outside of a major city, the harder it becomes to find English-speaking locals. Whatever the case may be, knowing how to ask for basic help and information is an invaluable tool when traveling abroad, especially in remote areas when you need assistance.
#3 Grow Personally & Professionally
Traveling abroad for pleasure can sometimes inspire even grander plans: moving to a foreign country for professional endeavors. Or maybe you won’t move, but you’ll work for an international company after being inspired by your travels. Either way, being multilingual is a huge plus. Employers look for characteristics such as versatility, ambition, and sensitivity to other cultures—all of which you can obtain from learning another language. Traveling internationally is a life-changing experience that often leaves a lasting impact on one’s intellectual curiosity, open-mindedness and willingness to try new things.
When you’re ready to book that next trip and start learning the local language, there are many different options to choose from: old fashioned books, gamification apps and learning 1:1 with a real-life tutor. With Preply, an online language platform that connects more than 40,000 bookable tutors teaching 50 languages, you can work with a tutor remotely from anywhere in the world. It’s reasonably priced, convenient for your schedule and an effective way to learn a new language. Before you even get on that plane, you’ll already feel like you’ve traveled abroad, made a new friend and learned a new skill.