Language is something that defines all of us in some way. Our ability to communicate with each other is what can make or break relationships, propel us forward in our education, and determine whether or not we get a particular job; therefore, being adept in multiple forms of communication and having knowledge in different cultural nuances can help improve our lives in several ways. The ability to speak multiple languages is a skill that can only be seen as a plus.
As someone in support and in admiration of the black travel movement, I love to see other black women trotting the globe and living their best lives in other countries; however, in order to live your best life, a few things need to be in order. When some people move abroad, they have issues settling into their new home and building profound relationships with those around them.
Some of this may be due to the fact that in certain homogeneous societies, anyone who does not look like the major population will stick out immensely and might be subject to xenophobia; however, more often than not, I find that expats/immigrants have difficulty with immersion because they are not well versed in the local language.
Also, let’s talk about the terms “expat” and “immigrant” for a second. It seems that those with more privilege (such as those from developed countries and those in a better financial situation) tend to identify with the term “expat” whereas those with less privilege (those who are economically disadvantaged and/or come from developing countries) are often labeled with the term “immigrant.” Regardless of socioeconomic status, both are immigrants, but there are stark differences in how privilege can influence one’s ability to find the footing to immerse oneself in a new culture.
For example, it is implied that an expat chose to leave their country of their own accord and had the means to do so. This means, unlike others, they most likely had the finances and/or educational background to support this move and start off in a decent position in their new country. Yet, curiously enough, many expats do not make a significant effort to learn the language of their new country despite having adequate resources, and one cannot be well-versed in a culture without being well-versed in its language. Learning the tongue of one’s new country is an indispensable part of settling that I think many expats would do well not to forget.
Putting immigration aside, learning multiple languages is an essential part of responsible travel. This is not to say that you need to be fully fluent in the language of every single country you travel to, but having the knowledge to ask for and take directions, as well as ask for help is something that goes a long way and prevents you from being a gullible traveler.
This is something I learned from my trip to Barcelona, in which I had no working cellphone service, got lost, and was stranded for a while after leaving the famous Park Güell, unable to ask for directions with my dismal, vague memories of 8th grade Spanish (which would not have been that useful anyway since mostly Catalan is used in Barcelona).
In sum, do not repeat my mistakes and make sure to have a basic knowledge of the language of the country in which you are exploring because the consequences could be a lot worse depending on where you are.
Even for those who do not plan on emigrating or living a nomadic lifestyle, knowing multiple languages is an asset in the workplace given that you would be able to communicate with even more people.
If you know a language in an area where it is greatly valued or you have a specific language combination that makes you a rare find, you will excel in no matter what field you choose to pursue. So, black women, get those books open and find a language partner because we need to get going on our polyglot journey!
Naná is a proud Brooklyn native and aspiring digital nomad. She enjoys travel, nature, and art. Her other hobbies include reading fantasy novels, binge-watching series on Netflix, and language-learning. Find her @blackbelletravels