Learning a new language is often considered to be an impossible challenge for the average person. Memorizing thousands of new vocabulary words, practicing foreign pronunciation sounds, and engaging in an unfamiliar culture can be intimidating. However, if there’s one thing I’ve discovered during my Spanish-learning journey, learning a new language can drastically enhance your travel experiences. In this blog, I’ll explain the benefits of learning a new language for your next vacation and provide my best tips for how to do it.
Benefits of Learning A Language
Foreign languages are more than just required high school courses. Speaking more than one language comes with a string of benefits that may surprise you. According to researchers at Washington State University, learning a new language is linked to improved cognitive brain functions such as increased attention span and working memory. Bilingualism has also been proven to delay the onset of dementia symptoms and aid in the recovery of certain brain injuries.
In addition to these impressive health benefits, learning a new language also opens you up to a new way of seeing and interacting with the world, allowing you to discover unique ideas, perspectives, and lifestyles. These socio-cultural benefits lend themselves perfectly to the avid traveler eager to explore foreign destinations like a local.
Language Learning And Travel
Truly, learning a foreign language to travel is like unlocking a treasure trove of new, authentic experiences that can only be lived through that language. Not only does understanding the local language give you a sense of security and confidence in navigating an unfamiliar destination, but it also allows you to connect with the locals in their mother tongue.
Picture this: you’re sitting at a bar in Rome trying to figure out where to go to dinner. You start up a conversation with the bartender in Italian, and before you know it, she’s offering to take you to her favorite local cafe to try the best homemade pasta in the city. Or perhaps you’re backpacking through South America and you befriend a local in Buenos Aires who wants to show you all of the hidden gems that the Argentine capital has to offer. The possibilities are truly endless.
Some of the travelers with the most to gain from learning a foreign language are cruisers. Not only do cruise vacations give you the opportunity to visit multiple destinations in one trip, giving you plenty of chances to practice your new language skills, but they also allow you to connect with the diverse and multilingual passengers and crew aboard your ship.
Imagine sailing through the Caribbean and taking a local tour in Spanish in Puerto Rico. You get to view the port destination through the eyes of a local, truly immersing yourself in its culture, its history, and its customs. Later, you return to the ship and find yourself sitting next to a Mexican family at dinner. Your Spanish skills allow you to connect with them in their language, and you spend the evening teaching each other about your traditions, upbringings, and cultures.
Learning a foreign language transforms travel from a typical vacation to an immersive cultural experience. You are able to form a deep connection to your destinations while meeting the locals that make those places rich and unique. There is no greater sign of respect than speaking to someone in their native tongue, and that is just one of the many ways that learning a language can enhance your travel experience.
Tips For Learning A Foreign Language
Now that I’ve convinced you how knowing a foreign language can enhance your travel experience, let’s get into some simple tips and tricks you can utilize to help you along this process.
Developing the right mindset is the most important aspect of learning a new language. You’re not going to become fluent overnight, so you should set your expectations accordingly. Understand and be open to the idea that language-learning is a lifelong process; there will always be new words, phrases, and ways of expressing yourself to learn. Rather than be daunted by this fact, let it inspire you to constantly seek new ways to use your language skills in your everyday life.
My top recommendation is to find a way to connect to the cultures that speak your target language. This will fuel your passion for the language and serve as much needed motivation when studying consistently becomes difficult or overwhelming.
Connecting to a new culture will look different for everybody. For example, the first thing I do when starting a new language is search Spotify for music in that language that I genuinely enjoy listening to. The emphasis here is on enjoyment, not understanding. By curating my own personal Spotify playlists for Spanish, French, and Portuguese, I have developed a genuine love and passion for those cultures and have connected with the languages on a more personal level.
Once you find that cultural connection, start to develop a base understanding of the logic of the language. With free websites and apps such as Duolingo and Busuu, you can learn the most common words and fundamental grammar concepts from the comfort of your home or during your commute to work. If you’re learning a language specifically for vacation, you can even find audio courses available for free online or at your local library to learn useful and practical travel-related words and phrases.
After you feel confident with the basics, start to immerse yourself in your target language by reading books, watching Netflix, and following social media accounts in those languages, and start to notice how the grammar concepts you studied are used in real-world contexts. From there, it’s simply a matter of lather, rinse, and repeat. So long as you’re consistent, you will learn the language.
While there may be no right or wrong way to learn a language, I can assure you that embarking on this journey will grant you the most remarkable of travel experiences that you wouldn’t be able to have otherwise. Learning a new language allows you to truly connect to the local cultures of the destinations you visit. More than that, it opens you up to developing new and profound friendships with people from around the world who don’t speak your mother tongue, allowing you to learn more about the world and yourself in truly unexpected ways.