Learning new Languages to Travel Abroad – Why it’s so Important

February 2, 2016

Amy Trumpeter

Today I’m reflecting on the growing English ignorance of learning a second language. During my time as a teacher, I have observed that some people from England seem to have a particularly arrogant attitude regarding the learning of other languages. It’s something that I strive to change – I’m always eager to learn new languages and encourage others to do the same.

Foreign Language Learning in the EU

You can see that this is not just a perception or generalisation, it’s backed up by the statistics. According to Eurostat (see infographic below) 52% of students in the UK in 2013 did not study a second language during secondary education. The UK has the highest percentage of non-language learnings at secondary school than any other EU country.


Surely Everyone Speaks English, Right?!?!

It is generally expected by British tourists that wherever they go English will be spoken. Many think that there is no need for learning new languages. Why is that the case? Perhaps this is based on the arguable ‘myth’ of English as the global language. ‘Surely everyone speaks English, right?’ one of my secondary school pupils asked me. No, absolutely not.

In fact, English is not even the most widely spoken language in the world. According to my Lonely Planet Guide to the World, 14.4% of the World’s population speak Mandarin and 6.2% of the World’s population speak Spanish. Only 5.4% of the World’s speak English as their main language.

learning new languages - languages of the world

If we Brits demand that people visiting England speak English because it is our country, then why should people speak English when we visit Spain? Surely we should be speaking Spanish? In fact, doesn’t the same applies to anywhere in the world? I really think that wherever you travel to, you should make an effort to learn at least some basics in the language of your destination country.

The Benefits of Learning a Second Language

There are many benefits to learning a language. If you speak to someone in their own language, you speak to them from the heart.

Learning new languages is great for communication skills and also for improving brain activity. It has been proven scientifically that those who speak a second language actually use a different part of the brain, improving memory and cognitive skills. There is also some suggestion that second language learners hold off dementia (The Telegraph).

  • Improves communication skills.
  • Increases academic performance.
  • Improves Memory.
  • Improves Perception.
  • Increases Global Awareness.
  • Helps you to have an understanding of your own language through the rules of grammar.
  • You improve in your Multi-tasking abilities.
  • Greater job prospects for those with a second language.
  • Delays Alzheimers and Dementia.

My Personal Progress in Learning New Languages

Personally, I love learning new languages. But, there seems to be a pattern in that I only ever learn a language to intermediate level. I can speak French, German, Spanish and Urdu to intermediate level. But, it becomes extremely frustrating for me when I want to enter a more in-depth conversation, for example, the discussion of history or politics or culture of the country the time visiting. One of my next main goals is to become fluent in a foreign language.

I practiced some basic Spanish in Barcelona last October, where I fell in love with glorious art and architecture of Gaudi.

Gaudi's Salamader at Park Guell
Gaudi’s Salamader at Park Guell

In my bucket list 2016, I highlighted my enthusiasm for South America. I am eager to visit Colombia and Peru and Mexico. It seems that I will need to improve on my Spanish language skills should I travel in this part of the world. So this is what I now aim to do.

Me and Sy are starting an intermediate level Spanish course at York St John University. The level is continuation, which follows on from basic Spanish. We will be studying for two hours of a week and personal independent study is expected to be 5-10 hours a week. I really feel that this Spanish class will set us up well to return to Spain and travel in South America.

The Joy of Learning New Languages – Spanish Sayings Translated Literally

My fabulous cousin Freya recently found this video which demonstrates Spanish sayings literally. If you are learning Spanish, you will LOVE this!

Are you learning new languages? Do you feel that is important to learn another language when you travel abroad? I would really love to hear your thoughts please comment below.

You might also be interested in: Should I pay to Volunteer?