Why you should learn another language

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Headed to another country soon? Here’s an idea, do not speak English, unless English is the native language of that country, of course. Instead learn at least some of the native language.

Parenthood and Passports why you should learn another language

A few years ago, I was hit with the desire to travel to countries that did not speak English. For most of my life my travels consisted of staying inside the friendly borders of The United States of America. I remember going to Barnes and Noble one time and picking up a book about Switzerland. The cover of the book looked so cool. There were mountains… and skiers… and snow. All the things that I enjoy! Then I read inside about the languages that are spoken in Switzerland. They speak German, Italian, Spanish, French..and then something called Swiss-German. Oh…and they speak English there, too.

It was right there that I learned I am a silly American and felt pretty dumb. You mean to tell me there are countries where people can speak more than 5 different language?!

But this is when it truly hit me. In 2013 my wife and I were in Mexico and met a wonderful British family. I don’t recall how we started talking about languages but they mentioned their 5-year-old was learning Mandarin! Say what now? And when we were in Ireland last year we met a young high school student that could switch his brain from speaking German to English to Spanish just like that.

Yup..I felt really dumb. All I knew was English.

Why you should learn another language

If you never plan to leave the United States then I see why you would not need to learn anything other than English. But the USA only accounts for 7% of the entire world. That means there’s 93% of the world out there that you will never discover if you don’t leave The States.

And if you want to see more than just 7% of the world then it’s going to take some learning of other languages. Learning a language can be hard, but it can also be one of the coolest things you ever do, and it’s a way you feel more connected to other cultures even when you aren’t traveling.

Parenthood and Passports - Hanging Bridges Costa Rica

Conquer your fear of ever looking stupid:

You don’t need to learn the language from front to back. But learning some of the more popular phrases and sayings could make you go from looking like a “Silly American” to looking like Mr. Spock. So what should you learn? Here are a few phrases: “Hello”, “Good-Bye”, “How are you?”, ” I am good/fine/great/wonderful”, “How much does this cost?” ,” I would like to eat/drink”, “Table for…”. And know your basic numbers.

In most cases this is the bulk of the interaction you will have with locals if you’re trying to get by with the bare minimum. But learning these simple sayings can really make you stand out. Plus, your friends will think you’re totally cool!

No more paying the full-price:

I have never been one to haggle a price tag. I will pay whatever the price tag says. But I also know that there are such things as “tourist prices” and “local prices”. A fine example was when my wife and I went to Costa Rica last summer. We went and asked for a reservation at a fine steak house at RIU Guanacaste, the resort where we were staying. The resort caters to mostly English speaking adults so the staff spoke English for the most part. We went to make a reservation and were told none were available but that we could speak to the manager if we wanted.

We found the manager, and my wife started to speak the local language… Spanish. It wasn’t perfect Spanish, and she spoke it slowly. But the manager was impressed that she tried and even helped her out along the way. That night we were able to eat at the steak house that earlier that day had no reservations available. The reason? Because we were able to connect with the locals by using their language.

In a few months we will be heading to Germany. For the last year or so I have been learning the language. I admit it’s tough…but I also know that we will be able to break off the touristy road and interact somewhat with the locals. And because of that we will probably visit towns that our friends never will… Drink beer in areas that only the locals go… And more importantly, we will establish cross-cultural friendships and do so while giving our brains a nice boost.

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8 comments on “Why you should learn another language”

I will NEVER forget an American lady, probably in her late thirties, that instead of trying to understand the language being spoken simply started to shout in English at the young Guatemalan shop-keeper. Then had the audacity to yell at him, “why can’t you stupid people learn English?”. I didn’t know spanish but had my handy dandy guidebook with phrases and was treated like a friend wherever I went. The locals had a lot of laughs at my inability to roll an R or make that LL sound, but they really appreciated me at least trying. We seriously need to have our school focus on languages and make it a requirement for graduation..

I completely agree! In high school, we had exchange students from various European countries live with us for a year, and at the age of 16, they knew perfect English, as well as their native language, and usually a third language. I think American kids are really at a disadvantage because foreign languages aren’t taught beginning in grade school or Pre-K.

Well said. I stayed with a family in Austria for a few days when I was 14. The other same-aged kids already knew English on top of their German, and they were all deciding which language to learn next – French or otherwise. I was so jealous.

Germany is BEAUTIFUL! You will love it. I was an exchange student in the Allgäu region for a full year and it was the best experience of my life, bar none. There is so much to do and see, so hopefully you booked at least a week there, as you’ll need every second. I went there language blind…not a lick of Deutsch….but by the 6-month mark I was dreaming in German…that’s when you know you’ve got it down good. I know you have limited time there, but just know everyone loves tto be able to talk to Americans in English, but are super helpful in helping you to speak German when you try as well. I def recommend you try the Späetzle noodles–one of my favs! Also their cheeses and breads…and of course, their beer selections :). If you need any pointers, etc, definitely feel free to contact me. Happy travels!

I have unfortunately run into these situations far too frequently as well. When people leave the borders of their own country (which I encourage everyone to do), they can’t expect the world to cater to them. Why would anyone want to go somewhere that’s exactly like home anyway?
I was very fortunate that in Canada, we must learn French up to Grade 8 and then are highly encouraged to either continue with it or choose another language throughout high school. It is not even the language itself that matters, but rather the process of learning another language.

It’s been several years since I’ve used it, so my Spanish ability has regressed quite a bit, but I used to be very capable and confident in that language and traveled to several places in Central and South America. Knowing the language allowed me to experience so much more than I ever could have otherwise. I made some great friendships with locals who couldn’t speak English.

Years later (about ten years ago now) I got a job in Korea. It was my first experience traveling to a place where I could not speak the local language. I could get around, and I managed fine, but my experience traveling was so different. I couldn’t make friends with locals (unless they spoke English) and I getting off the beaten path was much more challenging. I only planned to stay there a few years so never made a concerted effort to learn Korean, but two years turned into ten before I finally decided to leave. It saddens me to think of how richer my experience could have been if I had started right away to learn the language and if I had been committed to trying harder.

Earlier this year, we moved to China and I decided I wouldn’t make the same mistake twice. I’ve been trying to learn Mandarin. It’s so much more difficult than Spanish. I think I could study it for ten years and not have the same level I achieved after a year studying Spanish. My kids are picking it up so much faster than I am. It makes me happy for them, but frustrated with myself. But in the end, all we can do is try, right?

I applaud your efforts to get out there and not be intimidated with your lack of language. It shows your kids that you value other cultures and languages.

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