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Why Learning the Local Language Enhances Your Time Abroad – WanderLang

Why Learning the Local Language Enhances Your Time Abroad

Learning the local languageMoving (or traveling) abroad is an amazing experience, one that I recommend to everyone to do at least once. Even just going to different parts of your city/state/country can be eye-opening and help you understand more of the world. I’ve only just begun my travels, and I can already see how I’ve grown as a person.

So how can you make the most of you experience living in a new country? Today I want to talk about what I believe is the best way to do that…

Learn the local language!

I’m going to go into a mini rant here, so bear with me. I’ve come across a lot of people in America that get mad at foreigners because they “don’t speak English” and they “don’t act American.” This is slightly understandable, since it can be frustrating or feel rude when a person moves to the US and doesn’t make any effort to learn English or American customs. Yet, when a lot of Americans travel abroad, they make zero effort to learn any of the local language and claim, “Everyone speaks English anyway, so why should I bother learning their language?”

See the hypocrisy there? People get mad when immigrants don’t adapt to the American lifestyle, but then they move or travel to a different country and refuse to adapt to the local culture. It doesn’t make any sense to me.

Okay, mini rant is over now, and I’ll get back to my original point.

When I decided to move overseas, I knew that I didn’t want to be one of those expats who creates an all-English bubble for myself. So I got busy figuring out how to learn Korean on my own, without having to buy a bunch of expensive stuff. I was working full time, so I didn’t get very far in my studies before I left. Yet even with the pitiful handful of phrases and words that I knew when I landed, I was constantly blowing peoples minds that I had bothered to learn Korean at all. And I’m not talking about just Koreans being surprised, I have met tons of other foreigners who have been in Korea for years and can’t speak or read a word of it.

I am by no means implying that you have to learn the language or you’re a horrible-awful-lazy-bad-good-for-nothing person. Cody can speak exactly two words in Korean, “hello” and “thank you.” Right now, he has exactly zero interest in learning any more. And that’s perfectly okay! I’m not here to force or guilt anyone into learning a new language, I’m just here to give my opinions. And I personally believe that learning some of the local language of the country you’ll be living in or visiting can make your experiences that much enjoyable.

Here are five reasons why I think you should learn at least the basics in the local language of the country you are living in or visiting:

  1. You can get along easier with the locals. I won’t lie, it feels pretty good to be able to get the waitresses attention by saying “excuse me” in her language when everyone else at the table couldn’t flag her down. It also has been helpful to be able to say “Water, please.” or to be able to understand the prices of the food at a street vendor. Plus, knowing some key phrases can help you know if those around you are saying not-so-nice things about you.
  2. You understand the culture more. Language is an integral part of any culture, and the more you know of the language the easier it is to understand the people that speak it. You can listen to their music and watch their TV shows or movies. You would be surprised how much your understanding can grow once you become familiar with a cultures history and pop-culture.
  3. It looks good on a resume. Let’s not pretend we aren’t constantly thinking “How will this help me get a job?” In today’s economy, especially in America, you need anything and everything to set yourself apart from other job applicants. If you take your language studies far enough, it could be possible to get a job as a translator and countless other jobs. Just know, most companies want to see certifications to prove your language levels.
  4. If you’re working as an ESL teacher, knowing the language can help you teach students better. Knowing the local language can be incredibly helpful when working as an ESL teacher. While it’s usually best to not let your students know you speak their language (because then they’ll want to just speak that to you instead of English), it can be very helpful in showing you where your students are going to struggle. For example, Korean doesn’t have plural versions of words typically (there are ways of indicating more than one of something, but I’m not going to explain that here), so my students really struggle with the idea of adding “-s” to the end of word to make it plural (cat ==> cats). Since I learned this about their native laungage, it allows me to plan accordingly for how I’m going to teach my students this concept.
  5. It’s good for your brain. There has been a lot of research lately showing that knowing a second language can help delay the symptoms of Alzheimer’s. Thinking in another language has also been proven to help make your decisions more rational. The more you work your brain, the longer it will work for you.

So there you have it, all of my reasons why I think you should take the time to learn the language. I’ll be writing more posts later on about how you can learn a language despite any excuse you might have (you are NOT too old, too busy, too broke, or not “smart” enough, so stop telling yourself that). Plus I’ll also be telling you all about how I’ve been learning Korean without taking any classes.

Have you learned any languages? How have they helped you in your travels abroad?