The benefits of traveling with a second language, you ask? Well, let me tell you about myself first. My name is Jessica, and I am a native, English speaker. I love to travel so I learned to speak Spanish fluently. It wasn’t easy, and I still have awkward moments (like the one time I was accidentally on Chilean television and had to sing their anthem…crickets…), but speaking a second language has made me a totally less awkward person (and that’s hard to do!). Besides that, speaking Spanish (or any second language!) has many trip-changing benefits, and I’ll tell you about them from my experience:
Getting around easier! The most obvious benefit. Let me preface this by saying that I’m awful at directions – IN ENGLISH. Add a different language on top of that, and voilà! I’m stuck in a bus station all night. Traveling with Spanish increases the chances that someone (please! anyone!) can help me navigate the metros, trains, and buses. I can also read signs with ease, and thankfully, I never have to stress out about finding bathrooms, shops or bars. Ordering at restaurants has become an easy process for me, too. I can order exactly which local foods I’m craving (flautas, get in my tummy ahora!).
By far, my favorite part of traveling with a second language is making friends with the locals! Today, Spanish is the official language in 20 countries, and 410 million people speak it natively (Benny Lewis, fluentin3months.com). Get ready, the 409,999,950 other native speakers I have not yet made friends with – I’m coming for ya! These friendships have transformed my traveling experience. I have been invited to a quinceañera in Mexico, house parties, a wedding, religious services, family gatherings, barbecues, and more. And not to mention, at an El Día de los Tres Reyes (Three Kings Day) celebration in Puebla, I found the doll in my rosca bread. SCORE!! And I didn’t even choke on it! I can guarantee that I wouldn’t have had these cultural experiences without speaking Spanish and making friends with the locals. According to Nelson Mandela, “If you talk to a man in a language he understands, that goes to his head. If you talk to him in his own language, that goes to his heart.” I couldn’t agree more! I mean, who can argue with Nelson Mandela?!
SAVING MONEY. Have you ever been in a taxi, and you know that the driver is taking the long way home? Or your hostel charges you fees that you had no idea about? Traveling with a second language can help keep your money in your pocket! I remember one instance in which I immediately started chatting up my taxi driver in Chile. As it turned out, he used to live where I went to university. He then discounted the price of the ride! YES! When I stayed in Madrid, I was paying TONS of money for food at higher-end stores: Corte Inglés and VIPS. After talking to some neighbors in Spanish, I found the coolest (and cheapest) markets in town. As a side note, many bartenders LOVED my sister and me for talking to them in Spanish! You know what that means – FREE DRINKS!
Not only can speaking a second language make your travel experiences more memorable, but studies suggest that it’s great for your brain, too! It can improve cognitive skills not related to language and even shield against dementia in your old age (NY Times, “The Benefits of Bilingualism”). Also, speaking a second language can improve your love life! Yep, You heard that right. A recent study of 270 dating sites found that 97% of the sites asked customers if they were multilingual, and the most common reason was because learning another language is considered sexy (Phoenix News, “Language is sexy: Flex your multilingual six-pack”).
Are you convinced yet? There are muchísimos benefits of traveling with a second language! To end on a philosophical note: “The limits of my language are the limits of my universe”- (Ludwig Wittgenstein).
Who is learning a second (or third, or fourth, or fifth!) language? Comment below!