Do I need to know the language?

‘¿tu hablas español? si o no? 

What did I say above? Well, I asked, in Spanish, if you speak Spanish and if you didn’t know that, it’s probably because you don’t *inserts shrug emoji*. If you’re one of the 40% of the world’s population who only speak 1 language, fret not, though speaking another language is highly recommended it is not a travel requirement and should not stop you from taking a holiday to a foreign land. I am only fluent in English, though I studied Russian during University and am actively learning Spanish with hopes of becoming conversational by the end of 2019, and I’ve been everywhere doing everything with everybody. 

If you’ve been a follower of my blog or social media platforms you know that I’ve traveled all over Europe, Africa and, parts of Asia and have done so successfully with just one language under my belt. I’ll share with you some of my tried and true tips, ways that I’ve been able to make friends, navigate my way, stay safe in other countries and be respectful, because I’ve seen folks get nasty when people don’t speak English or accommodate them.

Let’s get one thing settled up front. English-only speakers tend to be privileged as most places you travel in the world have signs, menus and other English options readily available. I’ve discovered over the years that many people tend to speak their native tongue AND be conversational or fluent in English. This does not absolve us travelers, visitors, of the need to learn a few key phrases in the language of every place you visit. Nothing more cringe-y than someone who looks down on people who may have an accent but speak more than 1 language when they themselves are barely fluent in their native tongue (usually English speakers from the United States).

Some of my go-to phrases/words that I try to memorize: 

  • Greetings (Hello, Good Morning, Good Night, Thank You, Excuse Me, Nice to Meet You, Yes, No, You’re welcome)
  • “How do you say” – very helpful when you don’t know a word
  • Where is ____?
  • How much ? And how to say “money”
  • Key Words (Bathroom, Store , Police, Wine, Street, Restaurant)

Apps that I download and make use of either pre-travel or while I’m abroad

Google Translate. You can download the language that you want to use to be accessible when offline so that when you don’t have service you can still make use of the app. Not only can you type in certain words or key phrases to be translated, you or someone else, can speak into the app and receive a translation instantly. You can look up the phrases that I mentioned above or even type in words and phrases that you stumble across as you’re exploring.

Duolingo. Now hear me out, I use this app daily to study Spanish and try to achieve some level of fluency, I know that this is not everyone’s prerogative, which is fine, I guess *side eyes*. Despite my advocacy for everyone trying to better themselves, my other goal for 2019 is to mind my business, so I will just push this app as a quick way to get familiar with how to speak in and read a new language.

I hope you’ve found not only humor in the sarcasm of this post but have also found useful the two resources that I use faithfully, as well as the quick tip of what phrases are helpful to learn when traveling. This post wasn’t meant to shame anyone, instead to suggest that we try to be more kind and self-aware when we are traveling, to try to really emerge ourselves into the new culture that we are visiting. There is nothing better than the smile that I see people get as I attempt a sentence in their native language, it seems to be appreciated and respected.

Don’t let fear of the unknown *even if it is the language* or self-imposed barriers stop you from exploring all this world has to offer.


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