Language Barriers When Traveling

Why learning a language, even the basics, can be necessary

By Emily Byrd and Lauren Penington


Our world is full of many different languages, none exactly the same, and it’s fascinating to experience them when traveling abroad. Thousands of schools across the nation offer classes and clubs that help students learn other languages, such as Rosetta Stone, Duolingo, and some tutors who offer to teach people as well. Languages such as Chinese, French, Spanish, and Italian are commonly taught. Other languages such as American Sign Language and German are some of the more rare, yet still available, ones.

This raises the question, why is learning a language so widely available that it seems crucial?  

Learning a language not only opens many doors for you, but it helps build new and unique pathways in your brain- which makes you smarter. A person who knows another language can solve problems better and see things from alternative points of view. Being able to see things from different perspectives can help you solve problems and be creative,” said Chinese teacher Matthew Solak.

What about with the outside world? How could learning another language help a person outside of school?

I think that learning a language is important for lots of reasons. It promotes cultural understanding, helps people from all over the world speak to each other which helps them avoid being rude, pushy, getting lost or even frustrated. Plus, it helps them understand their own language and also how difficult it would be to learn English, ” said French teacher Janet Varner-Pickles.

Traveling abroad makes this barrier evident and many tourists find themselves in difficult situations.

“Not knowing a language when in a foreign country can be frightening. Since language is so crucial to communication, one might feel like a fish out of water when they cannot express basic needs. In most countries, if you simply try to speak the native language the people will help you in any way that they can,” said Spanish and French teacher Emily Starnes.

Before leaving, try and learn the basics. Simply knowing how to say “please” or “thank you” can make a difference. Not knowing a language can a liability, and language teachers recommend that you put time aside to learn some basic phrases that can help you during your trip.

“Communication is the most important thing with language. It doesn’t matter if you are 100% accurate when speaking,” said Solak. “It doesn’t matter if you use the correct word or pronunciation, but if you can communicate ideas, that is the main thing. Even if you know very little of a language, you can communicate a lot with body language.”

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