Ever since the coronavirus pandemic hit hard last year, taking a leisurely trip became increasingly difficult, and nearly impossible internationally with strict quarantine conditions. And granted my travel plans came to a complete halt, to cope with staying at home nearly 24/7, I re-adapted one of my practices before visiting another country: learning the native language.
When I say “re-adapt,” rather than learning simple phrases, I mean to fully study a language—grammar, syntax, phonetics, etc. In this case, I started learning Korean as South Korea was my intended destination in early 2020. Studying the written language, hangul, was surprisingly easy. And with Korean dramas and music becoming more mainstream, learning has been more enjoyable.
But aside from studying Korean from the ground up, why would I learn another language before traveling in the first place? Personally, I feel that at least learning basic native phrases allows me to interact with locals and show a modicum of respect and courtesy. I may be traveling to a foreign country, but in the eyes of locals, I’m the foreigner visiting their home. In some ways, I gained a greater appreciation for the culture through learning a language. And by researching more of a culture, I’ve also found some things not to do that are culturally unaccepted. Again, to show some respect to the country I’m in.
In other cases, a new language at my disposal made getting around a slightly easier task. I’m reminded of a trip to Tokyo where learning some Japanese helped our group ask for directions and recognize signs for our destinations. Locals can admire your efforts by speaking their language and open up to give you tips and advice for your travels. It’s definitely helped in exploring more of the local spots, especially for food… mmm the food.
I definitely recommend learning the local language of a travel destination. It doesn’t have to be a full immersion of language study, but at least some common phrases and choice words to help you get around and enhance the experiences of a new country or even a return trip. I may not be able to travel to South Korea just yet, but I know I’ll be able to have a better understanding of a new language under my belt when the time comes.