The Best International Languages to Learn for Traveling the World
Do characters like Jason Bourne and James Bond make you jealous?
Okay, so maybe you’re not interested in gun fights and a constant fear of death.
But do you love how they can go almost anywhere and start speaking with the locals like it’s nothing?
There’s good news for all you aspiring language enthusiasts out there: You don’t have to be an international spy to be a polyglot.
Whether you plan to travel the world or just bask in the awesomeness of being one step closer to becoming Bond, learning international languages is a fantastic way to broaden your horizons, travel the world or simply learn more about it.
But you may be asking, “what language should I learn?” to become a spy—that is, polyglot?
This post contains a “language starter pack” for aspiring polyglots. That’s right, for the low price of a few minutes of your time, you, too, can be culture- and language-savvy like the heroes of your favorite action flicks.
The three languages we showcase below will make any English learner more comfortable in a variety of different locales and cultures and will open the door to more language learning in the future.
Spy school is now in session!
The Secret to Becoming an International Polyglot
The secret to learning multiple languages quickly is finding something that they have in common. In the case of the languages below, the common denominator is one of the world’s older languages: Latin.
Since 60% of English words have Latin roots, the key to learning multiple international languages easily is to focus on languages that also have Latin roots. That’s why in this post we’ll be focusing on the benefits of learning Spanish, Portuguese and French. Since English shares many of its words with these three languages, you will be able to learn them faster and easier.
These languages will also enable you to communicate in more parts of the world, including over 70 countries across the Americas, Europe, Asia, Australia and Africa.
What Makes a Language Useful Internationally?
Knowing certain languages gives you a huge advantage when traveling and in other cases where international communication is necessary. Not sure which language to start with? Here are some things that make international languages really useful to know:
They’re used in many different countries
You can always, of course, look for locals who speak your language in your travels regardless of where you are. English and Chinese, for instance, are spoken all across the world. But you can’t always rely on this unless you’re visiting one of the four countries where Chinese is the official language or the 35 countries where English is the primary language. Considering there are close to 200 countries in the world, this is a surprisingly small number of options!
Now imagine if you added another language (or three) to the mix. By knowing more than just one or two languages, you greatly increase your ability to communicate anywhere in the world.
International languages will allow you to travel to more locations across the different continents while being certain you’ll find someone who can communicate with you. Of course, keep learning the language you’re most passionate about! As Bourne and Bond have taught you, knowing the right language in the right place can open a lot of doors.
They can teach you about many cultures
Our world has become increasingly more connected and learning another language is the best way to strengthen those relationships.
Most bilinguals know that learning a language goes beyond memorizing terms and phrases because language and culture are intrinsically connected. Languages teach you history and reflect the influences of other cultures.
For instance, just following the route languages have taken as they evolved reveals how languages (and their speakers) have migrated over time. Researchers have found links between Siberian and North American languages in the past, while currently languages are continuing to evolve through migration like in the case of German being altered by Arabic- and Turkish-speaking immigrants.
Languages are linked in more ways than you might have imagined! Through learning a language, you also learn about the past, present and future of the language and the world itself.
They’ll make you a more savvy traveler
Knowing the right languages will immediately level up your traveling skills.
Want to avoid tourist traps and overpriced restaurants? Wish to see how people really live in other countries? If you’re able to ask the right questions and read local advice or reviews then you can potentially save a boatload of money on your travels.
Without adequate language skills, you might get stuck in the tourist spots of a locale and miss out on the better cultural and local hotspots. And we all know that those tourist places aren’t the cheapest, either! Once you get comfortable with the language and get cozy with the locals, you’ll find places that are better for your palate and your wallet.
How Can I Learn These Languages While Traveling?
There are many resources and blogs out there for learning a language, whether you’re trying to pick up the basics of Swahili or brush up on your high-school-level Spanish. But using these resources might not be as convenient when you’re on the go.
If you’re planning a trip (or even dream of traveling the world someday), here are some ways you can continue your language learning during your actual travels:
- Teach English in your destination country. If you’re reading this post, chances are you already speak English. Use this skill by teaching as you travel the world. The best part about teaching English abroad is that you generally don’t need previous experience to start. Teaching will offer you a way to earn money as you travel, help locals by sharing your skills, and, of course, better learn the language.
- Live with a host family. The best way to learn one of these languages is to live with a host family. Living with people who speak your target language means hearing and using the language every day out of sheer necessity. This immersion language learning is one of the most effective and natural ways to learn a new language.
- Volunteer. Volunteering with a local non-profit or humanitarian organization is also a great way to learn new languages while you’re traveling. You’ll be able to help people in need while learning a language at the same time.
- Ask lots of questions. Actually using the language is a great way to learn. Ask locals about their favorite nearby restaurants, about good places to visit or even ask for directions—even if you already know where you’re going. Remember: When it comes to learning a new language, the focus isn’t the destination but rather the people you’ll learn from along the way!
The Best International Languages to Learn for Traveling the World
Spanish: The Second Most Spoken Language in the World
Spanish is the official language of countries across three continents, including Argentina in South America, Spain in Europe and Equatorial Guinea in Africa. Over 400 million people speak Spanish worldwide—a number that actually beats out English as the second most widely spoken language in the world.
The benefits of learning Spanish
Learning Spanish will make you more marketable on your travels and even closer to home.
Some knowledge of Spanish will help you land a job in Spanish-speaking countries and will help you find local jobs that require bilingual Spanish speakers. Since it’s is such a popular language, you’ll also have many opportunities to find online work teaching Spanish once you’ve achieved mastery of the language. This is great news for travelers since you can continue to work as you move about.
How to start learning Spanish
- Download learning apps: Perfect for on-the-go learning.
- Learn basic grammar: You can’t speak unless you know the basics.
Portuguese: Found Where You Least Expect It
Portuguese is the official language of Portugal and Brazil (which has over 200 million Portuguese speakers alone), but it’s also an official language in parts of Asia.
Surprised? Portuguese is actually widely spoken in some Asian countries, like Macau (where it’s the official language) and Japan (where Brazilian immigrants brought the language with them). Aside from Asia, you can also find the language in as the official language in ten countries across the world and as a spoken language in many more.
The benefits of learning Portuguese
If you already know some level of Spanish, you have a leg up in learning Portuguese as the two languages are very similar. Conversely, knowing Portuguese will help you learn Spanish. It’s a two-for-one deal!
Aside from being a critical language to know when traveling to Brazil, Portuguese is on the rise elsewhere in the world. According to UNESCO, it’s one of the fastest-growing languages in the world, with the number of speakers increasing yearly.
Portuguese is one of the most widely distributed languages as well, and appears in places you might not expect like Asia and Luxembourg. With the language on the rise in so many varied places, you may soon be bumping into Portuguese a lot more often than you’d think.
How to start learning Portuguese
- Immerse yourself online: We’re always online. Why not learn while we’re at it?
- Take a course: Combine self-guided learning with the more structured format of an online course.
- Listen to podcasts: Learn while you do other tasks.
French: The Language of the Future
Of course, French is spoken in France. And with France being the number one tourist destination in the world, you might want to add that country to your French-speaking travel bucket list. But don’t limit yourself!
With one of the most beautiful beaches in the world, Martinique is one of many Caribbean islands where you can learn and practice your French. Prefer snow to beaches? French one of the official languages in Canada, where over seven million people speak it as their mother tongue. In Quebec alone, almost 80% of the population speaks French.
French is spoken in many parts of Africa, Europe, the Americas, the Caribbean and countries in the Pacific.
The benefits of learning French
French is the language of the future. According to Forbes magazine and several other publications, by the year 2050 French could be the most spoken language in the world—surpassing even English and Chinese. The reason for this is to be found in Africa, which contains some of the worlds fastest growing nations in the world. Many of these nations use French as an official schooling language, which means we may soon be hearing much more of the language worldwide.
While we’re still a long way off from the year 2050, it’s good to be ahead of the game!
How to start learning French
- Learn some basic phrases: Knowing just a few phrases can go a long way!
- Master the pronunciation: French is easily recognized by its unique pronunciation and correct speech is an important part of learning the language.
- Watch French TV shows: Learn while you binge!
This concludes your spy starter course. You’re now primed for using these three awesome languages for travel, work and socializing. Start by learning these useful international languages and you’ll be mingling with the locals faster than you can say “Mi nombre es Bond. James Bond.”
Ernesto is an author, blogger and freelancer writer, and he is passionate about helping refugees and the poor. If you would like to connect with him, you can find him at ErnestoAragon.com