by Tim Wenger
Language barriers are often one of the biggest factors preventing people from international travel. It’s intimidating to head somewhere and not be able to communicate! Gaining a basic familiarity is perhaps the strongest way to enhance your visit to a foreign country, not in the least because the locals will appreciate and often reward your effort. But perhaps you don’t have a ton of time, or want to work on learning a language Here are eight languages sure to make traveling the world easier. I hope this inspires you to pick up a new tongue!
Great news if northern Europe is on your bucket list – Danish, Swedish, and Norwegian are some of the quickest languages to learn for English speakers. In North America, there is a aren’t many practical applications if you don’t have a study partner with you, but there are ample resources such as the Live Lingua Project available to provide audio courses and study materials.
Spanish is a very common first language for English speakers to learn. The biggest challenge is often the gendered nouns, which offer quite a challenge for speakers not accustomed to labeling nearly everything they talk about as masculine or feminine. However, Spanish has half the vowel sounds as English – 5 instead of 20 – and the soft, rolling ñ flows easily off the tongue after a bit of practice.
Spanish is definitively romantic, with phonetic spellings, an easily written alphabet, and 330 million native speakers across the world. When traveling, odds are there are at least a few Spanish speakers around that can help you practice.
The Romance languages hold a firm grip on this list, and I’ve gotta say – Italian is my favorite of them. The grammar and pronunciation are easy to pick up, and typically make the best for English speakers to learn. Especially if you already speak Spanish, Italian is fun to speak and equally as fun to learn – think about playing Super Mario as a kid. “A-Mario and Luigi-a,” and work the pronunciation into other sentences. “That’s-a my-a pizza-pie-a.”
Practicing Italian is more than doable when basing yourself in or traveling through most any Western European country. Just be sure to add that accentual flavor when speaking, especially when talking about food!
Travelers to South Africa and Namibia can benefit from getting a strong level of Afrikaans under their belt. This is a fun language to learn, as its perfect for flash card studying on a long train or bus ride. Why? Phonetics. Words are pronounced how they sound. Like English, there is no necessary gendering of nouns, making memorization that much easier. And unlike English or Spanish, there is no verb conjugation in Afrikaans, another factor making memorization a breeze.
Also like English, Afrikaans is a derivative of the West Germanic language family. Phonetics and pronunciation are comfortable for English speakers; the one wee hurdle is One thing English speakers tend to have a hard time with? The letter “g”, which in Afrikaans is pronounced very heavily and hard, like the ‘ch’ in Bach.
Let’s get the hard stuff out of the way first: there are many (17, to be exact) verb forms in the French language. Beyond that, French is one of the easiest languages to learn on the road, especially if you’re in Europe or West Africa.
If you already speak Spanish, or at least have a basic understanding of gendered nouns, learning French is that much easier. The Latin derivations of the language are very similar to those of English, and it’s not hard to find people who speak French on the road. Additionally, there is a strong international network of Alliances Francaises, particularly across the US, that can serve as a sort of home base for practicing French in different parts of the world.
This one’s for those wanting to park themselves in Bali for a bit and mingle with the incredibly strong digital nomad scene there. Or, perhaps, for those already trekking through the islands of Indonesia. Indonesian is a quick language to pick up, and many English-speaking expats in the country readily speak it. In fact, you’re more likely to hear a group of expats speaking in the local tongue in Indonesia than in most spots in Asia.
The language, both in its written and spoken forms, is very phonetic. Spend some time hanging out in warungs or at a busy coworking space and you’ll gain a basic understanding of common words and phrases. Indonesians are very friendly and in my experience, will go out of their way to teach you their native tongue. There are no genders, plurals, or conjugations as English speakers are used to.
Personally, I’ve found that conversing with native speakers is the best way to gain fluency in a new language. These are the eight easiest languages to learn on the road, but the world of language learning is big and diverse. Need some assistance? The people at Live Lingua offer online Skype lessons in 11 different languages, all taught by native speakers. Combining language lessons with daily interactions is a great way to spruce up your travels and experience local culture in a different light.
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