When traveling to a region or country where the locals speak a different language from your own, it’s likely that your first instinct is to learn as much of that language as possible before you arrive. Knowing key phrases, such as greetings, please and thank you, and how to ask for directions are important to a successful trip.
Not understanding what signs say or what’s on a menu can be overwhelming, but try to temper your frustration. Let the experience be exhilarating, rewarding, and inspirational. Here are a few reasons why not understanding a language abroad can inspire future language learning:
- Learn as You Go
You have the chance to do a crash course in the local language. Immersion is one of the best ways to learn a language, especially when you’re surrounded by native speakers. You’ll pick up on authentic phrases, slang, and local dialects. By listening to native speakers interact, you’ll observe nuances unavailable to students in a classroom.
Though you may feel like you need to be fluent or learn as much of the language as possible, that’s not the case! Learn what you need to know for your trip. During your travels, you’ll quickly realize which phrases are most useful to you, and then you can build upon your knowledge when you return home.
- Tune Everyone Out
Trying to communicate when there’s a language barrier is exhausting and occasionally frustrating. When you have a moment, embrace the chance to give yourself a linguistic break. Purposefully ignore the chatter around you while relaxing at the park or taking the train back to your lodgings. Best of all, it’s harder to eavesdrop when you don’t understand what others are saying. Take some time to tune out others’ conversations and focus on your own thoughts.
Don’t underestimate the importance of slowing down and traveling with intention. While making the most of an adventure is important to many travelers, it’s also a good idea to let yourself process all of your new experiences and knowledge. When you’re ready to re-engage, you’ll be determined to learn and refreshed enough to enjoy it.
- The Importance of Context
Learning a language is easier when you have a relevant context to help you understand it. Even if you don’t understand what locals are saying, listening to them speak can help you remember words, phrases, and even grammatical structures during later studies. When you encounter a word in that language, your brain will make the connection to what you’ve already experienced. If you traveled to Germany, you’ll likely remember the word for cake because of the common Kaffee und Kuchen tradition that you enjoyed on your trip.
- Respect, Not Just Tourism
Almost everywhere in the world, locals will welcome visitors who make an effort to avoid being a rude tourist. It’s easy to show your appreciation of and respect for other cultures. Speaking to people in the local language is incredibly simple to do, even if you only know basic phrases, such as “please” “thank you” or “hello.” In addition, being mindful of how locals dress and following their general dress code shows respect for their values. Some travelers like to enrich their travels with volunteer work, both as a thank you to local communities and as an opportunity to have a unique experience on their trip.
- Language Is Part of a Culture
Language doesn’t exist in a vacuum; it’s just one piece of a greater cultural puzzle. When you encounter a language for the first time within its cultural context, you can experience it the way the language is meant to be experienced.
When you learn it in a classroom, it’s easy to forget the cultural context of a language, even if your lessons include discussions of culture. Making crêpes in your French class or watching telenovelas for your Spanish class are fun ways to interact with culture, but don’t compare to learning a language through travel, where you can engage with the language and culture as a whole.
Ultimately, travel can stimulate your desire and curiosity to learn a new language. Traveling in a new county gives you a genuine connection to that language and its culture. Learning the language on the go and after your return home can teach you about yourself and the world around you, so embrace the opportunity. You’ll have the necessary context, understanding, and confidence to be a successful language student.
About the Author : Ann Baker is a writer, coffee lover, and pop culture enthusiast who lives in Idaho. Literature and linguistics are her two passions, both of which she studied in college. In her free time, she enjoys hiking with her dog and binge-reading fantasy novels.
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