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English: The European Traveler's Best Friend and Ideal travel Language?

English may seem like the traveler's best friend, but there are reasons that those who learn the local language have more unique and memorable experiences.

English: The Traveler's Best Friend - Second Language Strategies

Second Language Strategies to Avoid Embarrassment

Welcome aspiring polyglot! As hinted at last week, there has been a lot of discussion as of late regarding the utility of the English language. There are a significant number of people who seem to believe that it is possible to travel the world and see all there is to see without learning the local language or developing any language skills. While it possible to get around, especially in major cities, there are inherent risks that come with neglecting to learn the local language.

That said, if you enjoy overcrowded tourist traps, over priced shops, mediocre food, and endless lines of people trying to sell you something, you can stick to English. If you want something more out of your travels, though, you might want to start picking up some vocabulary words in your target language.

Rely on English at your own risk

One of the things people constantly say is that they do not want to end up in exclusively tourist areas. While this is noble, it does mean that learning a new language is going to be necessary. Fortunately, the things you need to know in order to navigate to not entail fluency. By placing focus on a few key words and some basic phrases you will find that you are able to communicate with people far easier than you might think.

Of course, ensuring correct usage is a different issue entirely, but most people are willing to work through miscommunications with you while you are learning. Before getting into ways to use English to learn a new language, some further investigation into the reasons why English is not reliable for people who want unique travel experiences would be beneficial.

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Not as reliable as you may think

For the English language learners who are learning English as a second or third language, it will be extremely helpful. However, for those who only speak English there is often a misconception that it is going to be able to carry them wherever they go. In large cities where tourists and international travelers are common, this is true.

Even though people can speak English in these places it does not necessarily mean that they will speak English with you. After all, it is not enjoyable to constantly be accommodating people who do not respect your country or culture enough to even try to learn the local language.

One of the things that shocks many people as they begin to travel is that foreign languages are more important than they thought, even in large cities. The treatment you will get when you are able to communicate with the people you are meeting is drastically different than what you will receive when you can hold a conversation in the local language. Whether it's getting a special treat at the local bakery or a trip to somewhere you cannot even imagine, speaking the home language is well worth it. The worst part of only speaking English is you will be dismissed by a not insignificant number of the locals.

Why can't you speak English?

Being dismissed by the locals

Exchange students learn many hard lessons, one that goes undiscussed is how often they are dismissed by the locals. As sad as it is, many people will live in a country for several months or years without ever picking up a new language. This leads to easy dismissal by the locals and that is a place that you do not want to be. Fortunately, there is one fool proof way to avoid this: learn the local language.

When you are able to speak with people, even if it is not exactly fluid, you will find out that people are gracious and happy, even eager, to help you. Not only that, but when you have access to the language you open up doors to new opportunities you cannot even imagine. To demonstrate this, a short story:

When I lived in Belgium as an exchange student, I did everything in my power to learn French. I was attending school, living with a family who barely spoke English, making friends as best I could, playing on a soccer team with people who did not speak English, taking instructions from a coach who did not speak English, and attending night classes with a teach who did not speak English surrounded by students who spoke Spanish and Portuguese and Romanian, but not English. I was constantly exhausted, but all of these people always made an effort to communicate with me because they saw how hard I was trying to make things work.

After about five months in, one of my friends, who I had grown close with through playing Mario, that was his method of teaching me French, and I went out to party to celebrate the end of the exams. As is custom, his parents came to pick us up at 2am. What I was not expecting, however, was for them to invite me to go with them on their annual ski trip to La Plagne, in the French alps. For whatever reason, their daughter thought it would be more fun to hang out in the rainy country that is Belgium with her then boyfriend than take a sejour to the French alps where there was nothing but sun. This worked out for me, though!

This family does not speak English. To this day if you were to try speaking to them in English they would immediately begin tuning you out. Not because they are cold or uncaring, but because they simply cannot understand you. In fact, years later I went back with my family and this family did everything they could to communicate with my family. My parents do not speak French, but this family suffered through hours of conversation and even offered to tour us around Luxembourg. Why? Because they knew I was willing to try which means they knew my parents would be willing to try as well.

So, simply by trying to learn the language, though it was successful, both me and my family were able to have experiences that people who only speak English will never get. We were given a private tour around the upper and lower levels of Luxembourg. I was able to ski in the French alps which had been a lifelong dream of mine. It did not end there, though. There are hundreds, thousands of these stories from people like me and by learning the language you will open yourself up to similar opportunities. Not only that, but you may also find that you are able to get out of some rather sticky situations.

Getting you out of sticky situations

While the "I'm sorry, I don't speak -------" works often for getting people out of trouble, there are some situations where it will not be enough. Learning the local language will make it easier, not more difficult to deal with the people around you, even if you are in an unpleasant situation.

One of the only things that matters when you are getting into trouble is respect, and if people can see you are learning the language then they will respect you. Of all the things people of authority hate, horrible communication strategies and a lack of willing to try is at the top.

Language learning is important for many reasons and doing it to stay out of trouble is probably not the best reason. A better reason is to increase your competency in your native language. One of the better language learning strategies relative to second language acquisition is getting better with your native language.

First language acquisition goes slowly, second language acquisition goes slowly, but when you leverage the knowledge you have of your first language you will find it easier to pick up the next language. While it is not ideal to only speak English, speaking English and speaking it well will make learning your target language easier.

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How to use English to learn a new language

The benefits of being proficient in your native language extend far beyond the benefits that come with eloquent speech and writing. Many teachers do not acknowledge the similarities between languages and the roots of the words that connect languages. For that reason, one of the greatest tools you have in learning a language is expanding your vocabulary in your native language.

When you know more, you have more pools of knowledge to pull from and that can make reading easier and it can make listening comprehension more simple. Aside from a larger vocabulary, having a directed focus on what you learn is important. Paying attention and learning words with Latin bases, for example, will help you with your romance language acquisition.

The Power of Vocabulary Words

Rather than explain all the ways a large vocabulary can help you with your language learning, here are some examples to illustrate:

Scribe is another way to say "write" in English

In Spanish, the word for "to write" is "escribir"

The Latin word for "create" is "creo"

In Spanish, it is "crear", in French, "créer", in Portuguese, "criar", in Italian, "creare" so by learning Latin base words you open yourself to not only one language, but five; and this is far from the only Latin word that can make a difference in your language learning experience.

If you are focused on any romance language, learning these things will make an enormous difference and save you plenty of time on top of that. Learning a language is difficult, but there are language learning strategies you can use to make great strides. If that sounds like something you are interested in, make sure to download the FREE romance language pattern PDF using the link above or the one below.


English is a powerful language and there are tons of applications all around the world. However, choosing to rely on it when you are traveling can and most likely will lead to disappointment. Taking time to develop your language skills will always be a worthwhile endeavor. Whether it results in you getting out of a sticky situation, finding the opportunity to have unique experiences, making lifelong friends, or simply protection for your brain as you advance in age, it is always worth it. Relying on English is something that many people are beginning to believe is more than enough, but that is simply not the truth.

Learning a language is no easy feat, it will be difficult irrespective of how you approach it. Using the strategies listed here can and will enhance and accelerate your language learning experience, it will not be easy. But you can do difficult things and be great, so continue to do difficult things and be great. I will be here by your side endeavoring to do the same.

Be sure to check out Second Language Strategies to catch up on anything you missed, find me on Twitter or Instagram for some short form content. If you are struggling to get speaking in your target language, join our Discord! I look forward to seeing everyone’s progress in the months and years to come.