With English on track to becoming the "global language," it almost seems unnecessary for travelers to know the languages spoken in their destinations. Going with what you know may be the easy route, but it's not always the most rewarding. Read below to find out why learning a foreign language is still a worthy endeavor!
Communicating with local people in their own language can provide a more rich and authentic experience in the country you're visiting. You might strike up an interesting conversation, learn about a secret hotspot, score a bargain at the local market, or even be invited to a home-cooked meal. No matter the country, most people will consider your efforts as signs of respect and treat you accordingly.*
*Parisians are the exception
Sometimes it's just plain hard to get around in a foreign country. Signs look funny, maps don't make sense, and you could have sworn that train was supposed to arrive an hour ago! When you know the local language, it's that much easier to (GASP!) ask for directions, understand airport announcements, or negotiate your fare with a pesky cab driver. We travelers all get lost — we're used to it. But if you use your skills to arrive successfully at your destination, you can proudly declare (in your new language): "Not this time!"
Nobody wants to mess up and look stupid. Unfortunately, you have to be vulnerable to learn a foreign language — even though you might say something completely wrong (...you will.) Constantly putting yourself out there seems tough, but it makes you more resilient and builds confidence when you finally start getting things right (you will!) The eventual comfort you develop speaking with foreigners will translate to greater self-assurance meeting new people in any situation.
Those who pursue a new language will often find it frustrating, embarrassing, and downright exhausting. Experiencing the process for yourself will make you understand how difficult it can be for foreigners to learn English. You'll come to fully appreciate the people with "a little bit of English" who have helped you in your travels all those times when you didn't have the words.
Language skills are an impressive addition to any resume. You might find a job in a country where your secondary language is spoken, or land a position that values capable translators who can deal with certain clients. Even if language proficiency isn't part of a job requirement, it shows prospective employers that you are focused, dedicated, and culturally sensitive.
When you first start learning a new language, your reading and writing skill levels will be roughly on par with children's books (e.g. I eat the pasta. It is good!) Although you may not be the next great Italian novelist, your simplistic writing style in a new language can actually improve your writing in English. A limited vocabularly trains your brain to communicate ideas in a concise but effective way. When you return to English, you'll realize you can better recognize any extraneous words or phrases obscuring your point.
Call all companions! This perk applies to those who learn a language with a friend. Not only do you have someone to practice with and confide in, you also have a partner in crime. When you return home, you'll be able to speak to each other in your new language — it's like your own secret code! Just be careful! You never know who's listening and can understand...