1. Deeper connection with local communities and culture
The main reason most people choose to learn a foreign language for travel purposes is to make a better connection with the communities and cultures that they come into contact with.
Knowledge of the local language means you can listen to and understand local music and take part in local activities and customs on a much deeper level. Communicating in the local language is one of the main keys to understanding many aspects of local life in the places which you visit.
2. Hunting out great deals with inside help
Inside information on the best deals around are easier to come across if you speak the local language. Locals are far more willing to share information about cheap deals, local party venues and secret, natural hideaways, with people who can speak to them in their own language.
Firstly, not everyone in the world speaks English, despite the sometimes ridiculous assumption made by native English speakers that this is the case. Therefore, even if a local would be more than willing to share insider tips with you, it might not be possible. Secondly, most local communities are less suspicious of travelers if they can communicate with them in their own language. As the locals relax, inside information starts to flow. Also, if you travel equipped with language skills, you’ll be far more ready to go hunting for the cool local deals all on your own.
3. Cash-in-hand-work for long-term travelers
Long-term travelers and students on gap-year trips will find language skills incredibly helpful if, at any time, it becomes necessary to find some cash-in-hand-work to build up the travel expenses bank again. Many travelers who find themselves on the road for anything between six months to a year need to be prepared for the moment when they have to do a little bit of part-time work in order to continue funding their trip.
Long-term travelers with language skills can work in hostels (as just one idea) as they travel around the world and keep their piggy bank reserve nicely topped-up. Without language skills, you’re likely to be pretty useless to the hostel management team and unlikely to be successful in finding cash-in-hand-work whilst away. Taking a language level test is easy and it will determine what level of language learning training you need.
4. Staying safe
Whether at home or away, most people are constantly aware of the imminent threat of petty crime, particularly theft. When in your hometown or in a place where you can speak the language, you’re less of a target.
That’s why it’s always a good idea to speak at least a little of the language in the places you visit. You’ll be able to hear if people are planning to steal from you, particularly when in places like bus stations where thieves loiter and work in small teams to make their thieving activities more effective.
5. Missed opportunities
When traveling, there’s always the old man who sits next to you on the bus with an interesting story to tell, a young child who wants to know everything about you and your strange clothing/travel gear/facial features, or the good-looking guy/girl at the bar hoping to spend the evening getting to know you. Without language skills, there’ll be a lot of missed opportunities which pass you by on your travels.
You won’t feel like you’re missing out of anything at the time, but if you could live two lives simultaneously (one in which you had language skills and one in which you didn’t), it’s probable that you’d live through a richer experience when traveling, by being able to communicate with those around you in random situations, with language skills than without.
(Photo by Oleh Slobodeniuk via Flickr)