As someone who studies a second language, it’s clear to me how important it is to know other languages throughout life. This is especially true when travelling, of course, but it is also important in our hometowns. This is because, as I mentioned in a previous post, there are many people living around us that speak and understand different languages than us. Knowing another language is not just about being able to get through a conversation, that is only one part of it. The bigger and most important part in learning a language, is becoming acquainted with another culture. Other than classroom learning, the best way to learn about a different culture is to immerse yourself in it through travel, which is one of the reasons that travelling is so popular!
When travelling, knowing multiple languages is best, but knowing one and a half is better than nothing. In my experience with learning Spanish, I’ve had a couple opportunities to use the language outside of school, and it really helped me appreciate the importance of the skill. For example, I was in line at a coffee shop and there was commotion with the people ordering ahead of me. It turned out they were trying to place an order in the handful of words that they knew in English. I figured out they were speaking Spanish and I introduced myself to them, offering to translate for them. It was pretty complicated for me, as I wasn’t used to the thick accents, but I got through it. I felt great about what I did, but the most memorable part of that experience was that I was able to help out someone that was living in an environment that was totally foreign to them. They were grateful for my help, and that was the best part of the entire experience. It is something that I still think about, even years later.
That proved to me that knowing another language is so important, because when you don’t understand what is going on around you, or if you aren’t able to connect with what is happening, you feel alienated and very alone. Even knowing how to say “please”and “thank you” in multiple languages is enough to make a vacation work. That being said, knowing the basics of a language before you travel to a new location is a sign of respect for the people living there. Even if, when ordering a coffee, you make a big mistake and order something completely different from what you wanted, it isn’t a big deal because the waiter or waitress knows that you don’t know a lot of the language, but the fact that you are attempting to speak it anyway means you are trying to connect to them.
Being human is all about connecting with the people around you, and knowing multiple languages (and not being afraid to use them!) enables you to interact with a bigger pool of people. Essentially, operating in more than one language allows you to be part of a bigger, more fulfilling world.