Learning new languages is fun. In my 26 years on earth, I’ve tried to learn French, Spanish, German, Latin, Korean, Japanese, and Arabic. (Note: “Tried” is the key word here. These are in order from success –> misery.)

And, despite my many struggles and failures, there’s nothing like actually communicating or understanding an idea in another language. It’s a sense of accomplishment that, for unathletic and unmusically talented kids like me, is unparalleled.

I’m pretty sure, however, that if I never traveled abroad, I wouldn’t find it fun at all.

Thus, when I was invited to participate in Kaplan’s Inspire Language Learning Bloggers Contest, I didn’t have to think too hard.

Mongolian road sign
Which way?

The question Kaplan posed was, “What is the most important benefit of learning another language? Is it love, travel, money, or intelligence?” They suggested using this nifty infographic to get our ideas flowing.

inspire language learning

Learn English with Kaplan

Let’s see.

Love. I’ve only dated a few foreign guys, and with them, our common language was English. Lame. Though I have no doubt that being able to speak to a BF in another language would up my hotness, it’s not why I’ve learned other languages.

Money. I feel like it’s difficult for native English speakers to bring in the big bucks solely from knowing another language. Sure, it’s a great line on your resume, but not a reason to slave over German noun endings.

Intelligence. Language learning does make you smarter, true. But so does learning linear equations (whatever those are) and how microwaves work (how? HOW!?).

Travel. That’s my reason for learning languages.

First off, it makes travel so much easier. Being able to read a sign or ask someone where the bathroom is can turn a near-disaster into a fun travel experience.

Korean street signs
Hmm, where’s the pharmacy?

It can also turn a French waiter from a mute head-nodder into your loquacious best friend.

Secondly, knowing the native language makes you, and those you interact with, happy. 

Even if it’s just a simple phrase, the smiles on people’s faces when you speak to them in their mother tongue show that they appreciate it. And the sense of accomplishment and victory that you feel (Holy crap! I said “Hello!” And they understood!) is pretty awesome.

Korean pancake lady
This lady is clearly amped about our pathetic attempts to speak Korean.

Though I kind of hate that English is the universal language, because it means I don’t get to practice other languages as often as I’d like, it does mean that the bar is set VERY low.

If a native English speaker, an American especially, just mumbles two words in the worst accent you’ve ever heard, people are going to be unduly impressed.

With friends at a Parisian cave bar
This creepy Parisian man clearly would not have been friends with us if our French hadn’t been so good.

So even though I suck at most of the languages listed above, my minimal efforts still make a difference. In Korea, just being able to say “Two beers, please,” will delight your bartender to no end. No matter that you can’t say “And a cran-vod.” They still will appreciate you trying. Good feelings all around.

Lastly, and most importantly, knowing the language makes travel more meaningful for everyone involved.

I’m a true believer in the power of kindness and mutual understanding. With our globalized society, these ideas are growing ever more important. And it’s much easier to have mutual understanding when you can communicate.

Posing with the Colombian military in Ciudad Perdida
Kindness, mutual understanding, and… machine guns.

Communicating in someone’s own language opens the door to a genuine interaction, and ideally, a genuine connection. 

Being able to ask my Guatemalan hiking guide about his experiences in the civil war, or talking with my waitress about life on a remote island in Nicaragua — these are experiences that I had only because I could communicate in Spanish.

Guatemalan hiking guide
Teddy in the midst of a deep convo with our Guatemalan hiking guide.

Granted, I often have to resort to speaking English, given that I don’t know many languages. That makes the times I am able to speak in a native language all the more special. I relish in it.

Because when you make efforts to communicate in other people’s words, it sets you apart, and opens that door, that trust, that connection. It makes all the difference.

And that’s why I learn other languages.

What do you say? Do you learn languages for love, money, intelligence, or travel?