| More Than Just A Tourist |
Traveling itself is a language experience. It is fascinating to learn a foreign language, in a foreign land, from the locals, and speak the language with the local people, even if all you know is a few basic words or just the greetings.
It is through my travels that I realize the power of language. I always learn the language spoken by people from the country that I travel in. Every time – without a fail, the locals are VERY pleased to know that you are interested in learning their language. It works every time because as a foreigner, you will always have a funny accent speaking the language for the first time (or some of you ace it the very first time), and the attempts often make the locals laugh.
This kind of laughter means no harm – it loosens some people up when they are suspicious of travellers; it makes things easier when you try to negotiate the price with taxi drivers/ vendors (trust me it works – just greet them in the local language and say nice stuff before you start negotiating); people are usually friendlier to you when you make an effort to communicate in their language; and using the local language to greet people is a great conversation starter as it helps let their guards down. Most importantly, it shows that you are more than just a tourist walking around taking pictures of the major sightseeing spots and all – it tells them you are here to learn their culture, and it is out of respect for their culture that you are part of right now that you attempt to communicate in the local language.
But apart from of all the reasons above, the main reason why I love to speak in the local language is because I could see instantly in their eyes that they see me differently. Language draws people closer, no matter how limited your vocabulary is or how different your accent is. It is the thought that counts and you will be surprised by how little things, like saying a few words in someone’s language, can make you realize how similar we are as human beings. Language barrier is man-made, and once you remove it you will understand how easy it is to connect with people whom you think are so different from you.
Photo: My attempt to learn Amharic in the mountains of Lalibela, Ethiopia