Learning the language of the country you’re visiting allows you to connect more deeply with the local people and culture. Of course, if you’re on a time limit, it probably isn’t feasible to become an intermediate level speaker overnight. However, if you’re looking to travel extensively through one country or region, investing in learning the language brings tremendous benefits.
“If you talk to a man in a language he understands, that goes to his head. If you talk to him in his own language, that goes to his heart.” - Nelson Mandela
Even learning just the basics goes a long way. Nelson Mandela’s quote speaks a truth not often acknowledged by monolingual English speakers. With English being the most popular second language spoken around the world, native English speakers tend to take it for granted. Having travelled throughout Central America, I can assure you that even a simple “buenos dias” lightened the atmosphere as I continued the rest of my sentence in English. However, I realized that if I was going to make the most of my trip, I needed to make an effort in learning the language, and in turn it added tremendously to my experience.
Those who speak more than one language have increased employment opportunities, and earn an average of $7,000 per year than their monolingual counterparts.
After completing my TEFL course in Manuel Antonio, Costa Rica, I decided to travel around a bit and take Spanish courses at the San Jose institute. My instructor spoke no English, but I knew it would work since I had just learned how to teach English to non-English speakers using only the English language. After four weeks of study, and practicing with local speakers in exchange for my English wisdom, I was able to advance a level. With my newfound confidence in communicating with Spanish speakers, I was able to get the ins on the local eats (chifrijo; a must), things to do (Transitarte annual art festival), and places to visit (Mercado central in San Jose for a real cultural experience). I started indulging in the culture and connecting to Costa Rican people on a deeper level. It brought me satisfaction to know I could be the one to foster that relationship, and made ticos comfortable inviting me to further explore life as a local.
I felt accomplished having stepped out of my comfort zone, and overcoming the awkwardness and stage fright that comes with learning a language. The friends I made, and the experiences that came with it were more than enough of a reward. However, I wasn’t aware until recently of how I was benefiting cognitively by constantly using two languages. Research has demonstrated that individuals who are bilingual develop more abstract thinking strategies, allowing them to become better problem solvers, stronger decision makers, and develop greater memory capacity. This is all thanks to the ability of bilingual brains to be more active and flexible. In addition, those who speak more than one language have increased employment opportunities, and earn an average of $7,000 per year than their monolingual counterparts.
Travelling should be more than just checking things off your bucket list, uploading cool photos, and adding stamps to your passport. It’s about appreciating the beauty of a landscape vastly different from home, pushing yourself to try new foods and activities, and understanding the world through the eyes of the local people—connection is key. So, next time you take a trip, I dare you to truly immerse yourself in culture by acknowledging the native language, customs, and traditions and watch how you transform as a human being who can realize their worth in a globally, interconnected world.Add this article to your reading list