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How language can enhance your travel experience

But even for international trips where you could get by speaking only English, your travels will be easier and more satisfying if you learn some of the local language.

When you’re planning an international trip, there’s always a lot to think about: where to visit, what to pack and, these days, coronavirus safety and restrictions. So it’s understandable that learning some phrases in the language of the country you’re visiting might fall to the bottom of your to-do list — especially if a lot of people there speak English.

But even for international trips where you could get by speaking only English, your travels will be easier and more satisfying if you learn some of the local language. I know this because I’ve traveled, lived, worked and studied abroad myself, but also because my job is working with clients who are doing all of those things. Here are a few reasons that language learning can enhance your international travels.

Make everyday interactions easier
When I was working in Mexico long ago, I had trouble communicating with store clerks and restaurant servers. And I had studied Spanish! Little stresses like these can come up on your trip, especially if you weren’t anticipating quite so many of them. At home, you know how to go about the daily business of life — getting around, buying food, banking, mailing a package. But all of those things could work very differently in the country you are visiting. Having familiarity with the local language makes these routine interactions a lot easier. And that gives you more time and energy to enjoy your trip!

When you take some time to study or immerse yourself in the language before your trip, you’ll also inevitably learn more about the culture of the place you are visiting. That will also help your trip go more smoothly. Wouldn’t it be great to arrive, and know how people in the country greet each other and how much personal space you should give others?

Be ready for emergencies
If there’s one thing we’ve learned in the past couple of years, it’s that the unexpected can happen — and happen fast. I don’t want to be a buzz kill, but before your trip, it’s a good idea to learn some phrases that could help you if any emergencies come up, whether they’re small or large.

Especially if you have a pre-existing medical condition, master a few phrases that could help you if you need to go to a doctor. “Registering with doctors was hard,” an expat once told us of her time in Germany. “I couldn’t find anyone that spoke English. So my colleague had to help me find an English-speaking doctor. When I went to the appointment, she actually couldn’t understand me. So I had to use Google translate to explain my symptoms.

You might also want to give some thought to other crises you might face in your destination country and the language you would need to navigate those situations. What if you get stuck in a coronavirus lockdown? How about if there’s a weather emergency?

Connect with others
OK, that last section was a downer. But the most important reason to study the local language before your international trip is a much more upbeat one. When you know even a little bit of the language of the country you are visiting, it’s so much easier to connect with the people you meet and even make new friends.

Getting to know the people who live there can change your whole experience of the country you are visiting. Talking with locals can help you with something as simple as knowing where to eat that evening or as complex as understanding the country’s culture and history. As another expat told us: “When you arrive in a country and you are able to speak and to understand its language, it’s a whole different experience, much more smooth, easy and positive. You can absorb more from the culture and understand why people act in this way or another, which leads to more tolerance toward others, as well. Language has the power to unite people — undeniably.”

And that’s really what travel is all about, isn’t it?

If you’re preparing for an international trip, you can build your language skills ahead of time by working with a native speaker tutor at A trial lesson is just $35. And we focus on the vocabulary you’ll need for whatever you have planned.

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