It is easy to travel to most popular destinations and just use English to communicate, but what could you be missing out on?
Learning any language, in part or in full, requires dedication and effort. Fortunately, a lot comes out of the effort put in. If you’re heading out on a short trip, a few days in common tourist destinations, learning new words is likely absolutely unnecessary. If you plan on staying longer or doing a project though, especially in a place where English is less spoken, learning to communicate effectively in a local language will undoubtedly increase the worth of your experience.
Practically speaking, effective communication skills are an obvious asset: you’ll be harder to take advantage of, and will be able to ask questions and take directions. While this is great, these benefits pale in comparison to being able to truly engage with a different community.
Giving the time and energy required to learn some of a language is a way to both give and command respect. It’s one of the best ways to show your connection to the place you are visiting. If you plan on interacting with local people through a volunteer project, being able to converse at a basic level will allow you to work much more effectively, and learn things from people who you would otherwise not being to interact with. People will also be less inclined to treat you as a tourist if you can prove to them you aren’t.
Language is culture: through learning a local language, one can begin to understand what things are emphasized and given importance in that culture. Studying a new language will also cause you to discover things about your native tongue. This kind of knowledge is invaluable and can’t be gained in any other way.
Some of the people you meet (be they elderly village women, young labourers or small kids) have not had the chance to learn your language. You, on the other hand, likely have the resources available to you to learn their language. Take advantage of them, and see for yourself: I can promise that you will gain far, far more than the effort you put in.
Bronwyn McBride is a student from Vancouver, BC, and now lives between India and Canada. After quitting her intensive study of circus arts and dance in Quebec, Bronwyn flew across the globe alone to see if she could live in a very different way. It wasn’t her first visit to India, and wouldn’t be her last!
Wherever she is, Bronwyn explores different ways to volunteer and get involved with local communities. She’s worked with severely disabled kids in a Mother Teresa orphanage in Kolkata, crossed the country with a social change performance tour, and has spent long months through the boiling summer in Varanasi, working in a school for girls. Next up: enjoying volunteerism and a foray into Bollywood in India’s cosmopolitan metropolis, Mumbai.
More of Bronwyn’s writing can be found at: www.bronwyngrace.wordpress.com