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Learning Languages through Travel

Updated: Jul 8

Wakhal deugue.

Dit la vérité.

Tell the truth.


The above is my favorite phrases that I learned while living in Senegal & I used it HEAVILY while there. 

Jash in white lab coat in Senegal
Senegal (2019)

During my time in Dakar I started picking up Wolof and now have advanced levels in French that all began there. 


Wolof was truly another beast and I was not prepared. Out of all the countries and languages I've encountered, it was by far the hardest and I was only able to pick up a few words and phrases. In all honesty, when I realized how difficult Wolof was I decided to focus on French. Sue me.


French is not an easy language to learn, but it was easier than Wolof and allowed me to communicate with everyone around me. I also knew that I would be able to use French in future travels more than Wolof so my focus shifted. 


Latin based or Romance languages are easier for me to learn because of my mother tongue and experience with Spanish and Italian. Having something to connect to in my mind helps me a lot when learning a new language and I couldn't find any connections for Wolof.


The language barrier is REAL whenever traveling, but it’s the effort that counts. 


Sunset in Senegal
Sunset in Senegal (2019)

I know I’m mispronouncing words and butchering grammar, but I’m trying and people recognize that. Genuinely putting forth effort into learning someone’s language is a MAJOR KEY to gaining trust and being welcomed. 


I also used this to break the ice with my students when I was teaching. My students in Senegal were fluent in Wolof and French so seeing their teacher fumble over both languages was hilarious to them. My accent and pronunciation were clowned on a daily basis, but I didn't care. I enjoy learning languages and cracking jokes.


Learning another language is never an easy task especially when you NEED the language, but I enjoy it. I've been able to learn from so many people and interactions around the world. From becoming somewhat conversational in Italian to navigating Spanish in México, traveling has made learning a never ending process for me. 


I prefer learning languages through experiences and from native speakers so I typically don’t study languages before arriving aside from basic words and phrases. It may sound crazy (because it kinda is), but it works for me and I plan to continue to use this strategy. 


Besides, you tend to pick up things fast when you NEED it. Running out of toilet paper may seem like an easy fix, but that may not be the case if you can't communicate what you need. 


For example, I learned how the french words for toilet paper within my first couple weeks in Senegal and I doubt I'll ever forget how to say "papier toilette". Everybody learns differently and this works for me (most of the time🙃).


There are many different ways to learn a new language, but there are few that are better than complete immersion. Being surrounded by the language and forced to use and connect it to your day-to-day life accelerates the learning process. From grocery shopping to spending time with friends, you are constantly being exposed to the target language in real life situations.


Resources like YouTube and Duolingo have also helped me in my journey to become a polyglot. I watch movies and series in French and have music in countless different languages on my phone. Even if you don’t want to live abroad, there are ways to immerse yourself in the language right at home.


It’s no secret that being multilingual can make traveling a lot easier, but there are a lot of benefits to speaking multiple languages. Plus, the more ways you can communicate the more people you can connect with and that’s always a positive, right?


So, how many languages do you speak? Do you try to speak the language of the country you’re visiting? Let me know in the comments!


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