Updated September 9, 2016.
If you want to travel and experience new cultures, it’s important to be able to communicate with the locals. The best way to ensure this is by learning their language, or at least learning the basics of that language.
Learning a language is of particular benefit to long-term travelers who may spend a number of months traveling around a specific region or continent, especially for a few economic reasons:
- Increases your chances of getting a job if you find yourself running low on money.
- Makes it easier to find accommodation and at the cheapest price.
- Allows you to barter with locals when it comes to food, transport, and travel.
- Helps you if you get into trouble with the locals or dealing with local authorities.
There are lots of options out there for most languages. The key factors in deciding how to approach the learning process are time, budget, and motivation.
The cheapest way to learn a language is the self-taught method.
You can use free resources online, download a free language-learning app for your phone, or check-out a book or audio course from your local library. This method is ideal for people who don’t have a huge budget and want to learn the basics–there’s one catch though, to learn a language on your own, you have to be something of a self-motivator, otherwise nothing gets done, and before you know it, you’re backpacking around Cambodia with no clue how to say please, thank you, or what does it cost?
You could also download language learning software.
This is more expensive but it may be worth it for the superior user experience. Besides, when you invest money in a learning process you’re more likely to take it seriously and study. Similar to the self-taught method it’s ideal for people who don’t have a lot of free time and want to learn the basics.
Depending on where you live, there may be language courses you can take at language academies.
These courses vary in level, from beginner to advanced giving you the option to push yourself as much as you want to. The biggest advantage of taking a language course is it gives you a chance to interact with others and develop the conversational aspect of the language. After all, being able to communicate holds precedence over grammatical issues. This method is best suited to those with some free time and money to spend.
Going back to college to study a language is the most complete option.
You’ll learn about all aspects of the language but it may be overkill if your main goal is developing conversation skills. That said, for lots of language learners a college language course may hard to fit into their budget or schedule. Below is a list of the top five spoken languages in the world and the countries where the language is spoken.
Below is a list of the top five spoken languages in the world and the countries where the language is spoken.
This should help you decide what language would be of most benefit to you depending on where you want to travel in the world.
Top 5 languages for travel
Mandarin Chinese is the most spoken language in the world with over 1 billion speakers. That said, only a handful of countries speak Mandarin as their native language. More than 80 percent of Mandarin speakers are in China. So unless you plan on moving or traveling for a long period of time around China, Mandarin isn’t the best language to learn for travel purposes. Besides it’s also widely considered the hardest language in the world to learn.
Some countries where Mandarin is spoken: China, Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia, Mongolia, Brunei, Thailand, Philippines, Russia, USA, Vietnam, Laos, UK and Mauritius.
There are 385 million Arabic speakers in over 30 countries worldwide. Many countries where Arabic is an official or widely spoken language aren’t considered to be tourist destinations and those that are, such as Egypt and Israel have a large proportion of locals who speak conversational English.
Some countries where Arabic is spoken: United Arab Emirates, Afghanistan, Algeria, Bahrain, Chad, Comoros, Djibouti, Egypt, Eritrea, Israel, Iraq, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Libya, Morocco, Mauritania, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Syria, Tunisia, Western Sahara, Yemen
80 million people speak French as their first language and 140 million speak French as their second language in over 25 countries. French is an excellent language to learn for traveling as it’s spoken in Asia, Africa, Europe and Canada. The language of ‘love, culture and the arts’ exposes you to film, fashion, literature, and food.
Countries where French is spoken: Democratic Republic of Congo, Djibouti, France, Gabon, Guinea, Haiti, Côte d’Ivoire, Luxembourg, Madagascar, Mali, Monaco, Niger, Republic of Congo, Rwanda, Senegal, Seychelles, Switzerland, Togo, Vanuatu, Belgium, Canada, Cameroon, Benin, Burkina Faso, Chad, Central African Republic, Comoros.
Nearly 600 million people speak Spanish as a first or second language in 21 countries worldwide.
Spanish is the third most widely spoken language worldwide behind English and Mandarin. In most of South America (with the notable exception of Brazil) as well as Spain, Spanish will come in handy.
Countries where Spanish is spoken; Spain, Colombia, Peru, Venezuela, Ecuador, Guatemala, Cuba, Bolivia, Honduras, Paraguay, El Salvador, Costa Rica, Panama, Equatorial, Mexico, Argentina, Chile, Dominican Republic, Nicaragua, Uruguay.
There are 339 million native speakers and over 600 million second and foreign language speakers of English worldwide. English is the most widely spoken second language in the world.
The beauty of learning English (or having it as your native language) is almost every town or community you come across on your travels there’ll be a local who’s able to communicate with and help you. You’ll also be able to communicate with other backpackers on your around the world trip making friends, sharing stories and tips on where to go or what to see.
Countries where English is spoken: Antigua and Barbuda, Australia, Bahamas, Barbados, Belize, Botswana, Brunei, Cameroon, Canada, Dominica, Ethiopia, Fiji, Gambia, Ghana, Grenada, Guyana, India, Ireland, Israel, Jamaica, Kenya, Kiribati, Lesotho, Liberia, Malawi, Malta, Marshall Islands, Mauritius, Micronesia, Namibia, Nauru, New Zealand, Nigeria, Pakistan, Palau, Papua New Guinea, Philippines, Rwanda, Saint Kitts and Nevis, Saint Lucia, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Samoa, Seychelles, Sierra Leone, Singapore, Solomon Islands, South Africa, Swaziland, Tanzania, Tonga, Trinidad and Tobago, Tuvalu, Uganda, United Kingdom, United States, Vanuatu, Zambia, Zimbabwe.
I hope this guide to language learning for your travels helps you in some way.
Olan Ahern works on behalf of Pearson PTE specialists. He’s a language learning enthusiast and enjoys exploring new cultures.