Meeting new people from different cultures is one of the things that attracts people to the digital nomad lifestyle. Countries are very diverse, culturally, and linguistically. A single continent, or even a single country, features very different groups of people not to mention language. Thinking over all my travels, and especially the time I lived in Beijing, China, I began thinking about how learning Chinese impacted my work, adventure, travel, and lifestyle.
So, just how important is learning the local language for a digital nomad? It’s of high importance. Learning the local languages of the countries you visit will save you time and money. It will also help you to explore more. Locals are friendlier towards and appreciate nomads who try and speak in their language. Additionally, you have a chance to avoid trouble situations, develop more meaningful relationships, leverage more opportunities, and beat loneliness.
Naturally, deciding to learn the local language in an investment in time and energy that you need to judge for yourself if it makes sense to learn it. I’ve met digital nomads who were moving from country to country in Asia so often (every 2-3 months) that it didn’t make much sense. They got by with English. My point is, learning the local language is important and can help impact your experience, but you need to be practical about it.
Let’s take a closer look!
Situations Where Language Knowledge Is Helpful
- Language knowledge is beneficial for digital nomads. Speaking a local language can completely alter the trajectory of your travels for the better. It will give you access to more business opportunities. For starters, you will understand the needs of the people and their frustrations. That is how many successful entrepreneurs develop phenomenally powerful products for globally successful businesses. If you can speak the language, then pitch such ideas to locals who’ll be more predisposed to trust you.
- Learning the local language is essential because you will have a more productive and more rewarding experience if you learn the language. However, digital nomads need to consider how long they will stay in the country. If only six months, then perhaps just a basics course is necessary. In terms of politeness, it is always good to speak some basic words.
- Another situation where language knowledge is essential depends on the scale of language differences between a digital nomad and the locals. For instance, in big Asian or Latin American cities, English is spoken in the big cities. However, if you traveled into Asian or Latin American suburbs, you will most probably run into language difficulties.
- Furthermore, language knowledge of the local country at which you are staying will help you to stay aware of your environment socially, economically, and legally. Signboards and posters always communicate essential messages that could affect your situations. For instance, road signs in Russia are predominantly written in Russian, yet you will be expected to obey their commands whether you can read or not. You may be looking for particular services around you in Tanzania, but the ads proclaiming those services are in Swahili. Most of the advertisements, signs, posters, and billboards are always written in an easy and catchy language despite the language. You need to be aware of the language and know, in the very least, the basics.
Pros of Learning a Foreign Language
Folks who travel occasionally may prefer going to places where locals speak English. Such places can provide quite a convenient visit, but digital nomads are always looking for more fulfilling travel experiences. As a digital nomad, your lifestyle revolves around travel, and you want to enjoy all the perks that new destinations have to offer.
A Majority of the World’s Population Is Monolingual – As a digital nomad, you stand the chance of learning over five different foreign languages. You need the interest, motivation, and dedication to spend time learning. According to the Guardian, Britain’s economy direly needs its workforce to acquire more foreign language skills. The same problem is increasingly causing concerns in the United States.
As a digital nomad, you must appreciate how technology is enriching globalization. You probably also understand the principles of demand and supply. Learning diverse foreign languages, while you enjoy your travels, increases your demand in some of the wealthiest economies in the world. Soon, your time will be worth the finest quality of gold and diamonds.
Beating Loneliness – The digital nomad lifestyle can be very lonely! Just the fact that you leave your family and friends to go somewhere completely new is challenging enough. Going somewhere that you can’t make lengthy and comfortable conversations with people can sometimes be upsetting if there is no one to share it with. I wrote an article Are Digital Nomads Always Alone? – which might be of interest to you.
Maybe you’ve gone to the friendliest place in the world. However, if the locals can’t speak your language fluently, they’ll be apprehensive about talking to you. They don’t want to make embarrassing linguistic errors, and they have their family and friends around them. It will be up to you to go the extra mile in closing the language gap to make friends and develop meaningful relationships. You are the lonely one in a foreign land. Learn their languages and blend in with them.
A Deeper Connection with the People and Culture – Start learning the people’s culture way before you travel to their land. Understand their social cues and their history. Know what offends them and what impresses them. Know their most unique norms and laws by reading as much as you can about their culture. Most countries have cultural departments that publish such information on their websites. You can also access the wealth of information on different blogs. It will help you to learn their languages better.
Learning local languages will also help you to understand the people and their culture better. The two are complementary. It:
- Helps locals to trust you more
- Empowers you to bargain and ask for directions
- Helps you to avoid trouble makers and ask for help
- Allows you to identify opportunities and build profitable networks
- Offers your freedom to move on your own without companions and guides
Cons of Learning a Foreign Language
- Learning a language requires time and dedication. It is not an overnight process.
- If you keep moving, you could learn languages that you won’t use much later on in your life.
- Learning a language interrupts other learning processes.
- New languages often interfere with fluency in other languages.
- Learning a new language is costly, and it could push limit your work time.
- Some languages are difficult to learn.
Social Etiquette – Knowing a Few Polite Phrases
Know a few polite phrases if you don’t plan to learn your host country’s language. It matters is that you’ll be in a foreign land where a majority of the people don’t speak your language. Make an effort to learn the social etiquette of the locals for your convenience, safety, and well-being. Social etiquette is both literary and figurative, and it is very different everywhere you go.
Cultures cause people to behave differently because of socially prescribed norms and behaviors. The only way you can be sensitive to people around you and resolve cultural differences is by understanding their cultures. That way, you will know what phrases to avoid articulating and which gestures endear them to you.
Ideas for Getting Basic Language Training
- Buy eBooks – Since you are a digital nomad, it will be difficult for you to carry around huge language books and dictionaries. You would rather buy eBooks and digital dictionaries to help you master the local languages from scratch. There are tons of downloadable resources on the internet, and you need to keep your smartphone or laptop charged to learn while on the road.
- Watch YouTube Tutorials – You’ll be surprised just how many different language learning tutorials are on YouTube. It is a search engine that probably has numerous comprehensive tutorials on any aspects of different languages that you want to learn. It is like a powerful digital library with different, visually stimulating language teachers offering free classes.
- Language Training Apps – Language training apps are great because the content isn’t as scattered as YouTube Videos. Instead, they are planned and choreographed syllabuses that take you from the basics to the bigger unknowns. They are always available for you, and they offer visuals, audios, and text teaching. My digital nomad friends and I have benefitted greatly by using some of the following language learning apps:
- 50 Languages
- One on One Lessons – Finding a local teacher to teach you
This option is cheaper if you take it on the local country rather than doing it in your native hometown. Locals will charge less because they don’t incur expat costs. Furthermore, they experience more competition. One on one lessons always gives you the benefit of practicing as you learn.
Let’s agree that it is generally beneficial to learn the local language of countries that you visit. The trick to acquiring second, third, and fourth languages lies in constant practice. Don’t be shy; speak to native speakers of the language as well with fellow learners. Try reading as many signposts as you can and make out the literary devices used for appeal and caution. Keep in touch with local friends through social media like Instagram, Skype, and Facebook so that your language knowledge doesn’t fade away. Language is all about interest and practice.