There’s a famous saying that hindsight is always 20/20. When planning a trip, it’s easy to be short-sighted. Last year I went on a trip to China. I knew it would be a good idea to learn the language and I had months to prepare, but I told myself the same old story: I don’t have the time, I’m too busy, I’m travelling with a group, what are the chances of anything going wrong?

But once in China, disaster struck and I was separated from my group. The following day I had to journey alone to catch up with them, armed with only two words in my vocabulary, ‘yes’ and ‘thank you’. Even buying a train ticket became an impossible game of charades that relied on several phone calls and the kindness of bilingual strangers. I quickly became aware of my own sense of powerlessness in a situation where I could not communicate the simplest of needs. I knew then that taking the time to learn even a little of the language would have gone a very, very long way to making my trip easier and therefore more enjoyable.

Here are four reasons to learn the local language before your travel.

  1. Confidence in emergencies
    Whether it’s booking an emergency flight, train ticket or bus fare, or trying to play charades to a puzzled waiter about your deadly nut allergy, learning a new language will make you a more confident (and equipped) traveller ready to deal with any unforeseen events. Even a little language can go a long way.
  2. Immerse yourself in another culture
    Taking a trip to another country is about experiencing another culture and learning a language will allow you to have a more authentic experience of the people and their local gems. By learning a new language, you will be able to immerse yourself in another culture past the boundaries of the known tourist areas with English translators and signage.
  3. Make conversation, make new friends
    Learning the local language will not only allow you to communicate in emergency situations, but you will be able to converse with locals, staff and interesting people you meet along the way. Travelling provides the opportunity of making friends and creating new relationships outside of your comfort zone, and with learning the local language, these connections can be made outside of your hotel lobby or travelling group.
  4. Safety!
    Learning a new language is not only vital for emergencies but is paramount for staying safe. Learning the local language prior to travelling will give you a heightened awareness of your direct environment. You will be in-tune with the talk on the streets, on public and private transport, and at frequented tourist locations (read: tourist ‘traps’).


The most rewarding thing about learning the basics of a new language is not just being well prepared, but also having many doors open up to you from people who appreciate your effort to learn more about their culture.  Now, that’s great for international relations!