Whatever your native language is, there are several reasons to learn a foreign language before embarking on any periods of travel, work, or study abroad. Even if you only master the basics, you will almost certainly find having a few linguistic skills under your belt really handy when exploring new places.
Some main reasons to learn a foreign language for travel include:
Have you ever been in a foreign country and felt frustrated at your inability to even say “thank you” for good service? Or greet someone with a cheery “hello”? Being able to speak a bit of the local language can quickly endear you to the resident population, helping you make friends, and you can feel like you are experiencing a small part of the local way of life.
Whether you want to chat with locals or with other travellers, having a good handle on a foreign language opens up more communication routes. Having a good knowledge of English is usually useful for chatting with people from a variety of different countries.
There are some nationalities, however, amongst whom English is not so commonly spoken. Consider the common languages spoken in your chosen destination, and think about also brushing up on your English skills if English is not your first language.
Being able to confidently and competently perform tasks in a second language can be of immense help when spending time in another country, especially if you plan on being there for extended periods or if you intend visiting some off the beaten track locations. You will almost certainly want to learn some of the local lingo if you will be studying or working in a foreign country.
Ordering food in a restaurant and drinks in a bar, booking a hotel room, asking for directions, buying goods, and arranging transportation are just a few ways in which language skills will come in really handy.
If you will be spending a lot of time in Central or South America, for example, Spanish will be incredibly useful, if not necessary, in some areas. Not many people speak a different language in China; without a decent knowledge of Chinese you may find travel and life in China quite tough.
Many countries, especially those where bartering and haggling for goods is common practice, operate a duel pricing system; one price for locals, and another for foreigners. Being able to ask for prices in the relevant language usually results in a much lower starting price. If you are then able to continue the price negotiations in a foreign tongue you will probably get much better deals than somebody who cannot do this. Market trips are so much cheaper!
Transportation may also be cheaper, with taxi drivers often less inclined to try and pull the wool over your eyes if they think that you know the area, know the customs, and can speak the language.
Unfortunately, scams are in operation in almost every place around the world where there are high numbers of tourists. Linguistic abilities can also act as a trickster repellent! Con artists are less likely to try and take advantage of people who can adequately converse with them in their own language; they often assume that you already know about possible tricks, may have friends in the area, and are more likely to report any shady happenings to officials.
There are numerous reasons to learn a foreign language before visiting another country, including politeness, ease, and cost! Make sure that you are up to speed before setting off on your big adventure.