Interact with locals
Whether you are planning to spend a couple of weeks in a country, or whether you intend to spend an extended period of time studying, working, or living overseas, it’s always a good idea to learn a little bit of the local language. Making an effort to learn a few simple phrases shows a genuine interest and respect for the culture, and the locals will immediately pick up on this. Nelson Mandela famously said, “If you talk to a man in a language he understands, that goes to his head. If you talk to him in his language, that goes to his heart.” Even if all you learn to say is ‘hello’ and ‘thank you’, it will change your interactions.
In certain countries, learning the language is in your best interest if you want to be able to eat well. Since Korea has been my home base for a while, I will use it as an example. When you visit small family run restaurants you may discover that there are no English menus or pictures for you to point at. Instead, you’ll be handed a piece of paper with hangul characters, where you are expected to check off the food items you’d like to order. If you haven’t taken the time to learn to read hangul or learn the names of a few Korean dishes, you’ll be left guessing for your next meal – and with strange food items like dog and eel on the menu, that’s not always a chance you want to take.
Getting in touch with your roots
Perhaps your parents’ native language was different than yours, and you want to learn it so that you can pass it on to your children. Or maybe you have long lost relatives living overseas that you’ve been wanting to connect with. Language can be used as a way to bridge the gaps between generations and bring families closer together.
So what are your reasons for learning a foreign language?
For me, the best reason to learn languages while overseas is to feel like I have a bit of control of what’s going on. When I first started traveling I didn’t really care–just let everyone take care of me. After a while, that got really frustrating! Now I’m stubborn…If I can’t get a damn bus ticket on my own, I don’t deserve to go anywhere!