When you’re traveling to a country where they speak different language from yours you should seriously consider to take a course or at least learn some expressions and words. No matter if you’re doing a two weeks trip or a five months journey around South America, having a basic knowledge of the language spoken in the country you’re visiting is almost a must.
First of all, tongue is communication.
It’s a wrong common belief presuming that in all touristic places they speak English. In some spots there are maybe some signs in English or some workers know by heart some standard phrases, but what if your request is a little more complicated? You will waste hours in trying to make your point and probably you won’t succeed in obtaining what you need. If this happens in touristic places what about in the off the beaten track sites?
Investing in a language course will spare you a lot of time that you can use to make other experiences and as a result benefit more from your travel.
Another positive aspect is that you will end in being “less tourist” to locals. In these days that means less likely to be treated as an ignorant person with a lot of money!
Unfortunately in the tourism business we lost some authenticity and this produced in some places fake and expensive attractions, restaurants and souvenirs. This is also caused by the big contrast established between visitors and inhabitants and we can try to fight all this by showing some effort and interest in learning the native language.
Besides the basic need to get information let’s consider the interaction component. In the countries I have been to I observed a glint in the eyes of people when I could say something in their languages. Your attempt will always be rewarded with gratitude and that cultural gap that is an impediment at first becomes something you can share. You can find out about stories that you will never read in any guide book and you can satisfy their curiosity about your own country too. The give and take principle works.
I visited once Pisco in Peru. You don’t need to know that an 8.0 magnitude earthquake destroyed the city in 2007. You see it in every face and every corner of the town, what you don’t hear everywhere is the first person account of someone who felt the earth shaking so much that he thought the world was going to end. I had this opportunity on a taxi ride and the story of this man still provokes me gooseflesh.
From my point of view travel means also observe, visit or be immersed in another culture. Language is cultural. Without it you’re missing something. Think about your own tongue: it’s in the food, in the flora and fauna, in the traditions, just to name a few examples. The basic knowledge of the language allows you to understand better and therefore appreciate more the place you’re traveling to. It makes your journey complete.
On the southwestern Bolivian altiplano, very close to the “Laguna Colorada” (Red Lagoon), I met a fifteen years old girl working in the only existing shop there. It was kind of her summer job: at 4,ooo m.a.s.l. and eight hours drive from a city. She was meeting people from all over the world every day but she didn’t know a single word in English, not even hello. I spent a couple of hours with her and with a pen and a notebook I taught her some words and expressions she wanted to know. I made up a customized phonetic alphabet for her so that she could remember how to pronounce all those strange terms. I think she considered me pretty awkward at the beginning but after a while she was looking at me with affection.
These are some of the reasons why to me languages and travels are so interrelated. These are the moments I take with me that make journeys so complete.