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What are your thoughts on learning language for travel?

Travel Forums General Talk What are your thoughts on learning language for travel?

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1. Posted by elliottk (Inactive 40 posts) 5y

For my first international trip, I made a good effort at learning Japanese and am still studying a bit. I can see that it will take many years for me to get very comfortable beyond "travel talk" but I wonder if I shouldn't be spending time on learning another language that would give me an "in" for travelling to other countries than Japan (Spanish perhaps?). Although I continue to work on Japanese for the simple reason that I like the challenge (and would like to go back someday), I waffle on my view of the value of learning a language for the sake of travel after seeing how well many people responded to me in English when I did try to speak Japanese to native speakers.

Just curious to hear others thoughts on this.

As a supplemental question, I'm also curious about other's experience trying to practice on native speakers. Is my experience in Japan (other people responding in English when you try to converse in their language) very common?

2. Posted by Thomasvo (Budding Member 28 posts) 5y

You chose a difficult language to begin with :)
Spanish would be a good choice if you want to cover some ground. It's like the 4th most spoken language in the world. It should also be easier to learn (than japanese) since it has the same origin as English and there are no "weird" characters involved.

Regarding your second question, it is common. English is the most universal language in the world. People who speak it will try to be helpful and start speaking english to make it easier for you.

3. Posted by lil_lil (Travel Guru 462 posts) 5y

I love languages, and I certainly prefer not being completely hapless language-wise when I travel. But I don't speak every major languages there are, and I haven't take up a new language for the purpose of travel. I take on a new language for general interest and curiosity. ;)

I do use the languages that I know and try to "adapt" to where I travel, e.g. from what I know of French, I reapply the language structure to understanding basic Italian and Spanish. That's how I see language as being emcompassing I guess. I do try to make some effort in learning a few basic phrases.

The only non-childhood language that I've learned in recent time is French, and so far I've found French speakers more than happy to speak French with me when I need that practice. I'm toying with the idea of learning some Russian at some stage...

4. Posted by t_maia (Moderator 3291 posts) 5y

I haven't take up a new language for the purpose of travel. I take on a new language for general interest and curiosity.

Ditto for me. Really learning a language (to a level that you are capable of keeping up with native speakers in all situations) takes time and effort. Aside from my native language I know English, Russian and Arabic. It is a real pain to stay at a decent level in all three. You need constant repetition and practise or you quickly forget what you learned. You cannot keep this up unless you got a real passion for the language involved. (I was forced to learn Russian at school, to this day I am sort of apathetic about it. It is easier for me to find the discipline to sit down and cram vocabulary and grammar in Arabic than to do the same in Russian.) The main reason I learned the languages in the first place and still continue to study is professional - if you know a language very well it can increase your chances of getting the job you want.

From the point of "learning a language that you might need one day" it makes the most sense to pick out one of the official languages of the UNO. These are the languages that are the most widely spoken world-wide. These languages are English, French, Spanish, Arabic, Russian and Chinese. Also useful from a professional point of view are Italian, Portugese, German, Japanese, Malay and Hindi. If you have always dreamed of moving to Japan and get a job there it would make far more sense to increase your efforts to learn Japanese than to start all over with Spanish.

5. Posted by Thomasvo (Budding Member 28 posts) 5y

Quoting lil_lil

The only non-childhood language that I've learned in recent time is French, and so far I've found French speakers more than happy to speak French with me when I need that practice. I'm toying with the idea of learning some Russian at some stage...

You got me there, French speakers are generally(!) not that good in learning other languages and prefer to speak french.

6. Posted by lil_lil (Travel Guru 462 posts) 5y

Quoting Thomasvo

You got me there, French speakers are generally(!) not that good in learning other languages and prefer to speak french.

I'm not entirely in agreement with that. In my experience, it's not because they're not good in learning other languages (e.g. uni students would have at least learned English and another language). Just that they have a preference to speak in French because they're comfortable with it, and they feel a little lost when they can't play on subtle language nuances they way they can with their own native tongue.

I've been thrown in the deep end, attending a friend's house weekend away trip with a dozen other French speakers (I was the only non-native speaker) and when I was tired, it got harder to speak in French and they readily switched to using English. A dozen people switched to suit me, one person! I admit I'd love to be fluent in it, but I only realistically get to practice it when I'm in France, which is not as often as I'd like to.

Quoting t_maia

You need constant repetition and practise or you quickly forget what you learned. You cannot keep this up unless you got a real passion for the language involved.

Indeed, maintaining a language is no easy feat. I speak English, Malay, 4 Chinese dialects and now, reasonably good French. My grasp of Malay language nowadays is now like how it used to, considering I used to be able to debate in the language but since moving to Europe, the simple fact of not using it regularly means it takes time for me to get back into it. Sure, throw me any article in the language and I can still read and understand it without any problem.

But to verbally use it, I need time to think and reflect on it. Good thing the langauge is nearly native to me, since I learned it when I was a child and used it in school for years, so it's never completely lost. But I can see how easily it will be lost had I only learned this randomly and never went through a period of time when I was using it continuously. It is for this reason I haven't take on another language since French, because I don't feel I'm good enough in it yet that I should work on it until I'm happy, before moving on to another one.

Case re language that I've learned and lost would be Arabic. I attended classes when I was 5-7 (yes, very young and a bit odd considering no one else in my family speaks it but I was curious enough back then to persuade my mum to let me try it) but with all sorts of school curriculum happening (it's a very competitive system we've got in Malaysia) there wasn't anymore time for me to continue them and I've stopped using it completely. I can't remember a lick of Arabic to save my life nowadays. Perhaps that's something I should look into re-learning. ;)

7. Posted by Julie7 (Budding Member 2 posts) 5y

Wow I'm impressed that you're learning Japanese! It can't be easy but you're obviously drawn to languages. Spanish is always a good bet, but I suppose it depends where you plan to go. I believe it's always positive to learn a little of the languages of every country you visit, even if it's just a few basic greetings and polite introductions. Taking the time to learn these basics can really build connections with people, especially in a country with a difficult or uncommmon language that people generally wouldn't bother to learn. Good luck with the Japanese!

8. Posted by Cool Paul (Travel Guru 610 posts) 5y

hey man, learn japanese. just stick with it. My brother's best friend from childhood learned a little japanese in college and moved over there for an internship and never came back. he's been living there for about 12 years now, married a japanese girl and started his own translating business...

there are tons of companies in america that are japanese owned or deal with japan everyday, so you never know, you could end up using it more and more in the future.

9. Posted by fabyomama (Respected Member 560 posts) 5y

Hi elliottk. I'd promised myself for years to learn a language purely as a personal achievement. I finally decided on French and I've just completed a very basic evening class at my local college and about to enrol for the continuing session.

I'd originally flirted with the idea of either Russian, Chinese or Japanese (much more interesting and impressive!) but with French being so widely spoken in many parts of the world, and France just an hour away for me, I decided to go for that instead and maybe just learn some useful phrases in other languages depending where I go.

Bon chance, mes amis! (had to look that one up )

10. Posted by madpoet (Respected Member 410 posts) 4y

It's always nice to know a few words in the language of the place you're visiting. And knowing that you will actually be speaking the language you are learning, as a practical necessity, is a great motivator. But of course, you don't need to be fluent, just able to get by. Also, I think you should decide, first, where you want to go, before you choose which language to learn. If you are planning to visit Central or South America (except Brazil), then you'd want to learn Spanish. If you want to visit Asia or Africa, you'd want to learn other languages, of course.