When the local lingo gets you places

British schools perform notoriously bad when it comes to learning a foreign language. A study conducted by the Higher Education Policy Institute reported that only 32% of young Britons can read and write in a second language, compared to over 90% of their German peers.

Of course, you may say, English is a lingua franca which is spoken and understood internationally. Brits don’t really need to learn a new one to get around outside the UK. If that’s the reason why you’re not learning Spanish, Chinese, or French, you’re missing out on a world of opportunities and the benefits of knowing more than one language.

The importance of learning a foreign language when travelling

There are plenty of reasons why foreign languages are useful in the workplace. However, people often underestimate the advantages of knowing the local lingo while on holiday. 

If you have taken a few Spanish classes, for example, you will be able to stop eating like a tourist and start enjoying the real flavours and culture of Spain. 

Regardless of where you decide to travel, knowing the local language as a tourist allows you to save money on organised tours, free events that only locals know about, and eating out.

Being comfortable in a foreign language when on holiday also means fewer headaches exploring the country: have you ever tried to find your way around gorgeous Moscow metro? Famously, stations feature signs almost exclusively in Russian and most of the staff don’t speak English.

Why learn a foreign language for your travels

Here is a list of reasons why learning a new language as a tourist is a great idea:

  • Discover a country through the eyes of a local: people will be happier to suggest hidden gems and their favourite spot in town if you approach them in their native tongue
  • Be in control of your health treatment: feeling sick and needing medical attention abroad can be a traumatic experience, especially if you can’t communicate with doctors effectively
  • Avoid the ‘foreigner tax’: especially when bargaining is needed, asking for or proposing a price in the local language will save you from being overcharged for souvenirs
  • Enjoy local media and entertainment: whether you want to go to the movies or theatre, enjoy a stand-up comedy performance at the pub, or simply listen to the local weather forecast before you head to the beach, you’ll soon realise that tourists who can’t understand a word are missing out
  • Get the help you need: need directions? Don’t know what train to get on? Want to report a stolen bag? Everything gets easier when you know how to communicate
  • Save on accommodation: not all guesthouses are online. Find lovely hotels and guesthouses run by locals and enjoy the authentic experience

Some practical examples

Check out this gallery of opportunities that our Founder Drew wouldn’t have had access to during her latest trip to Tenerife without speaking Spanish:

  1. Book a private tour of Roques de García in Mount Teide (climbed 2,330 high) and avoid the tourist coach trips
  2. Negotiate a deal on an Airbnb in Santa Cruz and live like a local
  3. Speak to the locals about the less-walked hikes in Anaga National Park
  4. Sit at the front of the boat while dolphin and whale and watch in Los Gigantes!

What is the best language to learn for tourists?

This is a hard question to answer. Of course, much depends on your needs and taste. Are you a fan of cold temperatures and want to see the Northern Lights? Or are you more of a beachgoer?

If you enjoy warm weathers and don’t have the time to learn multiple languages, for example, taking Spanish lessons will open you the doors of most Central and South American countries, and you may even decide to go and work remotely in the Canary Islands for a season or two.

On the other hand, tourists who speak French will be in their element in several European and African countries as well as the Seychelles, Canada, and many Caribbean islands

How to learn Spanish quickly

The good news when learning Spanish for holidays is, you can ignore a huge number of grammar rules. Spanish speakers will appreciate you making an effort and often encourage you, it’s very unlikely that they’ll get offended by a few grammar faux pas.

Focus on Spanish conversation classes instead. Your teacher or tutor is going to ask you about your language goals and timeline and will design a learning plan that priorities understanding and speaking beginners’ Spanish, tailored around your needs.

Watch out: although writing is not essential for beginners in Spanish, you will need to learn how to write and read a different alphabet if you wish to understand languages like Arabic, Japanese, or Russian.

Practice, practice, practice. Don’t be afraid to jump in and take advantage of all the learning opportunities you get, both inside and outside the classroom. If you don’t have time to spare, try apps and exercises you can do during your commute or at your hairdresser appointment.

Immerse yourself in your target language. Your Spanish classes aren’t the only source of learning material. Try watching Netflix in Spanish with subtitles, listening to music with Spanish lyrics, and attending cultural events organized by the Spanish-speaking community in your area. 

You’ll be amazed at how fast you can improve if you follow these tricks!

What are common Spanish phrases?

Already on the plane? Practice these basic Spanish expressions to land on your feet:

    • Hola = Hello
    • Perdón/Disculpe = Excuse me/Pardon
    • Por favor = Please
    • Gracias = Thank you
    • De nada = You’re welcome
    • Lo siento = Sorry
    • Buenos días = Good morning
    • Buenas tardes = Good afternoon
    • Buenas noches = Good evening
    • ¿Qué tal? = How are you?
    • Bien, gracias = Fine, thanks
    • Me llamo John = My name is John
    • Encantado/a = Nice to meet you
    • Adiós/Hasta luego = Goodbye
    • Salud = Bless you/Cheers
    • Buen provecho = Enjoy your meal
    • = Yes
    • No = No
    • ¿Qué? = What?
    • ¿Dónde? = Where?
    • ¿Cuándo? = When?
    • ¿Qué hora es? = What time is it?
    • No entiendo = I don’t understand
  • Una mesa para dos, por favor = A table for two, please
  • Un billete, por favor = One ticket, please
    • ¿Dónde está el baño? – Where is the bathroom?
  • ¿Dónde está la estación? = Where is the station?
  • ¿Puedes ayudarme? = Can you help me?
  • ¿Hablas inglés? – Do you speak English?
  • ¿Puedes repetir? = Can you repeat that?
  • ¿Cuánto cuesta eso? – How much is that?
  • La cuenta, por favor = The bill, please
  • No lo sé = I don’t know
  • ¿Qué significa …? = What does … mean?

Want to learn all the basics? With My Language Lab, you can take advantage of online Spanish classes ready for your next trip.

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