Traveling abroad and experiencing new cultures is a feeling that every globetrotter craves. However, being unfamiliar with local languages is a barrier that can easily take away from your travel experience. So what are the 9 best languages to learn for traveling the world?
If you want to know more about some of the best languages for international travel. Then you couldn’t be in a better place. Read on to discover nine languages that’ll ease your travel burdens as you prepare to travel the world.
English comfortably ranks as the most spoken language globally. With approximately 400 million native speakers and over a billion non-native speakers, English can be a lifesaver for globetrotters, more so if your destinations are English-speaking countries.
In addition to being the official language in the US, Canada, UK, New Zealand, and Australia, English is also a de facto official language in well over 55 countries across the world. You can communicate in English when visiting a host of African, Caribbean, Asian, European, and Oceania countries, making it one of the best languages for international travel.
If you’re a native speaker looking to travel to non-English speaking countries, then learning a foreign language can come in extra handy. It also helps that most online content, from blog posts to cultural journals and informatics, is written in English. This makes it a lot easier to learn a thing or two about foreign cultures and regulations as you prepare to travel the world.
Did you know that Spanish is spoken by over 500 million people worldwide? Besides being the official language in Spain, the language is also spoken in several countries like Mexico, Peru, Chile, Venezuela, Argentina, Colombia, Honduras, and Panama.
Having a good grip of Spanish will leave you well-placed to travel across South and Central America. In fact, a combination of English and Spanish will give you a considerable advantage if you plan to visit several European countries and the Americas.
But is Spanish an easy language to learn? Well, no single language can be defined as easy to learn as you’ll need to put in the right effort and, of course, practice it regularly to get the hang of it.
Luckily, Spanish is one of the most widely used languages, meaning locals are likely to understand broken Spanish, provided you know how to string some sentences or some basic words.
The language is mainly used in Asia, Europe, parts of Africa, and South America. Portuguese is the fifth natively spoken language worldwide, with over 200 million native speakers and 70 million non-native speakers.
You’ll be glad to learn that Portuguese is also one of the most studied languages in the world, mostly due to its cultural and artistic appeal. In South America, it ranks as the most spoken language and is the second language in several other countries in the continent.
Portuguese is arguably one of the best languages to learn as you prepare to travel the world as it’s spoken on several continents from South America to Europe and even Africa. African countries like Cape Verde, Angola, Mozambique, Sao Tome, Principe, and Guinea Bissau use Portuguese as their official language.
Most people in Asia are also growing fond of Portuguese, with several local institutions teaching it. Therefore, learning Portuguese will give you an upper hand when visiting countries that speak it as the official or second language.
Also referred to as the language of love, French has over 280 million speakers worldwide, making it an important language to learn while traveling. For centuries, French was an international and diplomatic language but got tasered with English due to the growth of English-speaking countries.
French is the official in approximately 29 countries spread across multiple continents and is among the United Nation’s six official languages. Besides being the official language in several countries, French ranks as one of the most studied languages in the world.
Of course, having a grip of French, no matter how basic, will come in extra handy in France. The French are particularly warm and welcoming to foreigners who attempt to speak French, so you might get extra points for creating small talk with the locals.
Besides France, French is also spoken in countries like Belgium, Monaco, Canada, Luxembourg, and Haiti. In Africa, understanding the language will make your visits to countries like Chad, Burkina Faso, Madagascar, Congo, and Ivory Coast extra enjoyable.
If you contemplate traveling to central Europe and its environs, you should pick up some German. It’s fun to learn, with endings pinned to words to give them specific meanings. Most people deem it hard, but it can be a lot easier if you get familiar with the pronunciation or fully immerse yourself in German culture.
Besides Germany, the language is popular in Belgium, Austria, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, and Switzerland. The trick to learning German is to have a positive attitude towards the language. Start small and focus on the pronunciation, and you’ll become a fairly good speaker in a matter of months (depending on how much you practice).
Although not everyone might fancy learning a bit of German, it can go a long way in streamlining communication, more so if you’re traveling to central Europe.
While English is arguably the most influential language in the world, Mandarin has the most native speakers globally (approximately 920 million).
Point to note, though, Mandarin isn’t a language per se, but a dialect of the greater Chinese language. Most Asian languages are related, as Korean and Japanese vocabularies use 60% of Chinese words. This means that a modest understanding of Mandarin will improve your communication not only in China but also in other countries like Korea and Japan.
Many Chinese people don’t speak foreign languages like English or French. So when making travel plans, it can help to have a slight understanding of the Mandarin language.
It gets even harder as everything in China is written in Chinese, making translation a nightmare for foreigners who don’t know the language. And since English isn’t widely spoken in Asian countries like China and Korea, you might find the trip underwhelming lest you find a good translator.
Therefore, if you don’t have the time or energy to learn Mandarin, it would be best to set some cash aside for a translator as you’re likely to struggle to read and understand the language, which can negatively impact the quality of your trip.
Italian is a fantastic language to learn, especially if you plan to travel across Europe. Due to its phonetic nature, it’s among the easiest languages to learn (as long as you practice). The root words and formations resemble Spanish and French, meaning a basic understanding of Italian will assist you in grasping the two languages.
Italy is home to many cultural heritage sites in the world and is one of the most frequently visited countries in the world.
Italians are also known to be fond of foreigners who attempt to learn the language, meaning you won’t be short of new Italian friends.
Learning Italian will enhance your immersion in Italian culture, ensuring you enjoy an authentic experience while creating lasting memories.
You might need the services of a translator should you choose to visit Italy without a basic understanding of the language.
Arabic is one of the most popular languages in the world and is a Central Semitic language together with Hebrew, Phoenician, and Aramaic.
Although almost all Arabic-speaking nationalities have their native colloquial variety, it’s easy to understand all dialects if you have a solid grasp of Modern Standard Arabic.
Some of the popular Arab-speaking countries include Saudi Arabia, Algeria, Qatar, Jordan, Lanon, Egypt, Comoros, Palestine, Syria, Turkey, Iran, and Bahrain.
Arabic’s popularity makes it a great language to learn if you plan to spend a considerable amount of time in Islamic countries.
While you’re likely to find English speakers in Arab-speaking countries, understanding the language can make you gel better with the locals and enjoy the experience better.
I originally wrote this article before Russia invaded Ukraine. However, Russian is among the top 10 most spoken languages in the world. Besides Russia, it’s the official language in Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, and Belarus.
It’s also worth noting that Russian is a common lingua franca in Ukraine, Central Asia, the Caucasus, and some sections of the Baltic States. So if you plan to visit these countries for work or leisure, then learning a bit of Russian might come in handy.
The language embodies one of the richest histories in the world. So while learning a few things here and there, you’ll gain more knowledge regarding Russian traditions and its beloved culture.
Not many people speak English or other languages in Russia, which makes it vital to have a basic understanding of the language. But if you’re not up to the task, then it’s highly recommended to hire a translator when in Russia.
Tips for Learning Foreign Languages
Make a Reasonable Goal
When looking to learn a foreign language, the trick is to start small by setting reasonable goals. These can be simple goals like learning five words a day. Setting unrealistic goals will almost certainly set you up for failure as new languages can be stressful to learn, especially if you’re balancing lessons with work or other responsibilities.
Learn Common Vocabulary
There’s no quicker way to master a foreign language than learning commonly used vocabulary. Therefore, you can start by learning the basic courtesy vocabularies like please, thank you, and excuse me in a foreign language. Setting a target of three to five common vocabularies a day can significantly improve your understanding of a foreign language.
Without a doubt, practice makes perfect. If you’re to excel at something, then you must keep practicing to improve. So whichever language you choose, keep practicing by learning to read and pronounce new words. While it might be challenging initially, things will get a lot easier (and enjoyable) further along the line.
Ask a Native Speaker To Help You
Learning from a native speaker can also help you master a new language. While this process can work, it takes a lot of determination to keep learning on a day-to-day basis. A simple trick would be asking a friend (or family member) to communicate in the foreign language until you master it gradually. This can work if the native speaker is committed to helping you learn the language but can be impractical if not done consistently.
Don’t have a friend or family member that speaks the language you are pursuing? Use resources such as iTalki or Babbel to connect with native speakers on a regular basis.
One way to learn a foreign language is by enrolling in language classes. Unlike dealing with friends or family members, a language class keeps things professional as you’ll have to attend sessions and complete assignments to keep up with your curriculum. Moreover, dealing with a professional allows you to ask any questions that may come up along the way.
However, it can be said that language classes aren’t as effective as various immersion techniques available today. Many multilingual students use a variety of sources to provide immersion into their target language. These includes:
- Netflix – View shows and movies in your target language to immerse yourself in the sounds and life of that culture. More people than you can imagine have become fluent through committed, focused, and lengthy-time spent watching TV and film.
- Radio – Listening to music in your target language helps further immerse you in the sounds of the language. It also helps with pronunciation as you sing along.
- News/Podcasts – More ways to hear and digest all the nuances of our target language. The immersion you can create during your day, the better for learning that language.
- Pimsleur – this is my favorite language learning app as it teaches you in phrases rather than vocabulary. Right from the beginning, you’ll be able to say whether or not you understand, how to ask for cost, directions, and more. If you are learning for travel and not necessarily expecting fluency, this is a great way to learn the top phrases needed for your trip.
- Youtube – Today there are a ton of language experts offering their learning methods and ideas on Youtube. If you’d like a plan of action and various tips and tricks for learning, looking there is a good option. You can also find tons of videos in your target language to help as well.
How Long Does It Take To Learn a Foreign Language?
The amount of time it takes to learn a new language hinge on factors like an individual’s learning ability, the learning environment, category of language (i.e., category 1, etc.), and intensity of instructions.
Category 1 languages can take an average of 26 weeks to learn, while category 2 and 3 will require between 34 and 48 weeks to learn. For category 4, you’ll need well over a year to become fluent.
It’s important to note that your native language will play a huge role in determining how fast you learn other languages. Consistency is key when looking to become fluent in foreign languages, meaning you’ll need to attend classes and try learning as much as you can in the shortest time possible.
Ready to learn your new language but still a little worried about traveling to that country? In this article, we talk about how to build the courage to travel alone.
- The Travel: 10 of the Most Useful Languages To Know When Traveling
- Go Overseas: The 10 Best Languages To Learn in 2022
- Quora: What Are The Best Languages To Know When Traveling
- University of the People: 12 Most Important Languages To Learn
- Tandem: Most Useful Language For World Travel
- The Guardian: 10 Tips For Learning Another Language
- Future Learn: How To Learn A Language
- Studyandgoabroad.com: How Long-does It Take To Learn foreign languages
- Must Go: Language Learning Difficulty
- Berlitz: The Most Spoken Languages In The World
- Lingoda: English Speaking Countries List
- Merriam-Webster: de facto
- DBpedia: About: Central Semitic languages