Today, you don’t need more than 2 languages to get around in the world. In case you are an English native, you will even do fine with 1. But for me foreign languages and traveling are 2 passions that are inevitably connected. One leads to another and I can’t even remember where it all started. I just know that without speaking multiple tongues my travels and adventures would be different.
It is waaay easier to navigate around
This is the most practical effect. The horribly long words on the signs in Germany don’t scare me anymore. I can figure my way out without interacting with parisians in France. I take full responsibility for pressing “Reduced tarif” (and getting fined) when buying tickets in Berlin underground. Montenegrin border officers in the port of Bar smile with respect and let go quicker. UK driving directions are weird (why? why do you need to drive on the left?) but at least I know which way to look.
It’s not exactly traveling anymore
More like moving between homes. When I come to a country not speaking its language, I feel and remain an outsider, a tourist. When I do speak the language, I have the opportunity to dive deeper into the culture of the relevant country, understand some aspects of it better, I can watch local TV or read news. I no more observe the country from aside, I live there.
Because I learned English I was able to go to study in the UK. My other options were Australia and New Zealand, the US, Canada… In my 3d year I will go to Germany and Italy to study or work.
Studying and living in a different country is a whole new experience. I get to know the country, become a local, make foreign friends and establish connections. I experience a different academic system. I discover new perspectives on the same things. I grow.
Making local friends
Learning a language successfully requires me to practice it. The best way to do so is of course to get drinks with native speakers. In 1 year of doing advanced Italian my knowledge of it hasn’t improved as much as it has in 1 month of living in Berlin (instead of German) where I was spending a lot of time with new Italian friends.
Languages open doors into other cultures
Nelson Mandela once said: “If you talk to a man in a language he understands, that goes to his head. If you talk to him in his language, that goes to his heart”. My experience taught me that not only a man’s heart is open to me, but a whole new culture. Cultures are different, despite major similarities. Some cultures don’t recognise concepts that others do. But hey, I speak 4-5 languages, thus my collection of concepts is broad, I get to be a part of more than just 1 culture. But then expressing myself in my mother tongue becomes an impossible challenge.
It is so nice being able to speak to people across the world in their native language. Knowing languages helps me feel a part of different countries and cultures, it makes me a citizen of the world, makes me live nowhere in particular.