Last updated: 05:00 AM ET, Fri November 18 2016

Should You Learn The Language When Traveling?

Features & Advice | Lisa Iannucci | November 18, 2016

Should You Learn The Language When Traveling?

Photo courtesy of Thinkstock

Next to my bed are piles of books I want to read, including several on touring Italy and one on how to speak Italian. I am hoping to go to Italy somewhere in the next year or two and I want to be able to speak the language when I get to Tuscany.

“I don’t believe that it is necessary to learn the language of the destination you are visiting; however, I think it is a good idea to have down some basic phrases,” said April Westerhold, of Five Star Travel and Cruises. “Not only will this help with communicating, the locals will appreciate your willingness to embrace their language.”

But should I even bother? After all, there are many apps, like Google Translate, iHandy Translator and Busuu for that. All I need to do is type what I want to say into my app and have it teach me or translate it for me on the spot.

Except I keep coming back to the scene in “Eat Pray Love,” where Julia Roberts as Elizabeth Gilbert travels to Italy and learns enough of the language to impressively order an entire meal for everyone at her table. I just want to order my own meal. So what should I do?

READ MORE: Tips for Learning a Language Abroad 

Ray DeVisser, a condominium travel agent with Global Connection who is from The Netherlands said that travelers shouldn’t expect anyone to speak English. “It’s a good idea to do research and brush up on the basics of a country’s language,” he said. “Locals will very much appreciate your eagerness in trying, even if you are using phrase books or apps on your phone. At the very least, ask someone in the local language if they speak English. This acknowledges that you are aware that the other person is making most of the effort.”

I already started my research, signing up for Duolingo, a free website that teaches how to use a particular language through drills. Go ahead and ask me how to say man, woman, boy and girl (hey, I just started). I can’t wait to get to “I want a huge piece of pizza please.” An “immersion” section of Duolingo lets me read real-world articles while helping to translate them. Beyond that, Duolingo awards points for lessons completed and bonuses if you do well. It’s like school.

READ MORE: Language Basics For Visiting European Countries 

Tammi R. Van Volkinburgh said that having an app on my phone like Google Translate is a good idea. “Apps like Google Translate will not only translate a word you type in, but will also use your smartphone's camera to view and translate signs, or its microphone to translate spoken word.” Van Volkinburgh, an affiliate of Travel Experts, added, “It is not very necessary to learn more than a polite phrase or two.”

Or, in my husband’s case, a dirty phrase or two. He’s learning from the book “Dirty Italian,” written by Gabrielle Euvino. It will be interesting to see how and when he uses anything he’s learned, but he probably won’t.

“There are so many options to learn the basics of a language quickly,” said Tom Karnes, CTC, president/owner of LaMacchia Travel in Kenosha, Wisconson. “Showing the effort to speak a foreign language shows respect and keep the ugly American stereotype at bay. When a local sees your effort, they open up to you and allows you to get to know them better.”

Do you study a language before you travel or just use an app? Which app? 

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