Why You Should Learn a Foreign Language AND Live Abroad

Kaylin Worthington is a student at Colorado State University and was an ISA Featured Blogger. Kaylin studied abroad with ISA in Malaga, Spain.

Living abroad gives you the most amazing opportunity of learning a new language. I know some people go abroad without the intent of really learning the language, or people that try but just don’t get around to knowing the natives. There are also the people that enjoy learning languages but don’t go abroad. In my opinion, this is a real pity. Here is why I think you should learn the language if you go abroad and why you should go abroad if you want to learn a language.


  1. You will be able to have conversations with people you would not have been able to beforehand.
Restaurant, Tarifa, Spain, Worthington, 1
I met these two lovely ladies on my ride back from Tarifa to Malaga. Blablacar is a carpooling website that I found very useful and cheap, and I wouldn’t have been able to talk to them or understand them if I didn’t know Spanish!


Too many Americans believe the whole world speaks English. In a sense, it is true. English, with globalization, is becoming the language of pop culture and travel, mostly because so many actors, singers, writers, and celebrities come from English-speaking countries. In most places, you can get by traveling if you know a little English. However, to really delve into the culture while living there, you have to speak their language. It can be awkward hanging out with someone while needing a translator to communicate all the jokes, after the moment’s already passed. It’s equally awkward looking confused all the time. Through knowing the local language, you can laugh, joke, have deep conversations, and really get to know people better. And if you’re in a country that speaks Spanish like me (Spain), they know about as much English as the majority of Americans know Spanish—almost none (there are 18 countries that speak Spanish!). But unlike many Americans, they don’t feel like the rest of the world should learn their language, nor do they throw a fit for having to get to level B1 of English (like many people would if that were a rule in the States).


  1. You will be a lot wiser, more understanding, cultured, and have a wider worldview if you learn the language AND talk to natives.
Pachange, Malaga, Spain, Worthington, 2
There is an “intercambio,” or exchange, called Pachange, where you pay 1 euro to have a conversation set up between you and natives. You speak for English for 30 minutes, then Spanish for 30 minutes (and the one lucky girl next to me is German so she got to practice two languages!) and you talk about everything, from hobbies, to differences between cultures.

Just learning the language isn’t enough, nor is being in the country but not being able to speak to locals. Doing both opens doors to wisdom. You are exposed to more points of view and are able to see the world from others’ eyes. You find out about more relations between countries, cities, autonomous communities, and languages rather than internal conflicts and politics (which is a lot of the news we receive in the U.S.).


  1. You’ll feel less entitled.
Camp, Monda, Spain, Worthington, 3
When I went to a camp close to my city, I went back to the family and rode horses with them. Though this lady speaks Catalán, German, Spanish, and English,  we spoke in Spanish. It was hard learning all these horse terms that I now use all the time in Spanish, but I learned a lot!

When you learn why people believe the way they do, often due to their history as a country, you’ll come to realize that you don’t know as much as you thought. You stop feeling superior to people around you, and that they should learn about your country and language. I was surprised when people didn’t know where my state was at first, but then realized that I didn’t even know that there were autonomous communities or even 4 official languages of Spain—Castellano (Español), Vasco, Gallego, and Catalán.


  1. You will also learn how to think differently, and your personality may even change.
Alhambra, Granada, Spain, Worthington, 4
When we visited the Alhambra, our tour guide spoke mostly in Spanish. Though he switched between Spanish and English for the people in our group that didn’t know Spanish quite as well, he still left out some things in English that he only said in Spanish, and it allowed for greater understanding of this famous place.

You will realize the relationships between words in the local language and your own language will make much more sense. As far as personality goes, you may find that you are more sassy in a foreign language because you don’t understand the full weight of your words, or adopt the personality of the culture you’re living with. On the other side, you may be more shy because of your embarrassment speaking the language. Either way, you’ll act and say different things. (That’s also why if you marry someone with a different native language, you should learn their language, to know them for who they truly are!) You’ll also realize why it’s so difficult to start talking to someone in a language that you didn’t start talking to them in. You have connected as the people you are in that one language, and it becomes awkward to switch. When people barely know a language, they can sound cute and innocent when they’re really not, and you’ll never get to the level of friendship where you can be sarcastic with each other.


  1. You will just feel cool. Nothing can be hidden from you.
Camp, Monda, Spain, Worthington, 5
I met all these lovely people at a camp I went to in Spain for the long 4 day weekend. It was amazing—we played night games, talked about God, went on scavenger hunts through the wilderness, and bonded, all in Spanish! It is truly amazing living in another language. It feels so cool.

People can’t speak behind your back. You can participate in twice as many events, conversations, organizations, or what have you. I mean, how cool is it that you can walk into another (or multiple) countries now and just talk to everyone? You can even  set the police on a criminal speaking like a citizen in another country. Just sayin’!


One thought

  1. Study abroad is a experience that can change the rest of your life. It can never be worthless to study abroad. If you get a chance don’t miss it. I would say find a opportunity. Now a days studying abroad is not a big deal. There are lots of agencies available out there Like http://www.learningplanetedu.c… to find you the most ideal school for you. Just be determined what you want to study and where. Do some research on the place you want to go like boarding facilities, transportation, weather etc.

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