The Importance of Learning A Foreign Language Abroad

By Jarrett Nixon

As travelers in a foreign country, being fluent in English is both a gift and a curse.  In Europe, for example, while there are so many different languages you will find that English is almost always the universal second language.  English is taught in nearly every secondary school and kids growing up in Europe are often multilingual by the age of 14.  This makes our lives a heck of a lot easier and with technology still skyrocketing we are finding it increasingly simpler to get our point across.

Applications such as Google Translate make it easy for us to get translations in a matter of milliseconds.  With all of this technology at our fingertips and the abundance of English speakers in Europe, we find ourselves in a comfortable spot, and this poses a problem. We are missing out on an enriching learning experience, and the chance to genuinely communicate with another culture.

We become complacent. We do not have an inherent NEED to learn a language anymore. If everyone is able to communicate with us in English, why should we learn French, or German, or Italian? Sure, we would LIKE to learn these languages, but it will always be a past regret unless we put forth a conscious effort.

Take me for example.

I have lived and worked in Florence, Italy for a little over a year and I am just now starting to put my foot down and make a dedicated effort to become fluent in Italian. I can navigate my fair share of basic conversations (Come va oggi? Tutto bene?) but struggle after the first minute or so of small talk. I work 70+ hours a week so finding the time to learn Italian was surely out of the question. That is, until I had a significant realization that my biggest barrier to learning Italian was not the time constraint, but how I went about trying to learn.

I would dedicate time in small bits to trying to learn (using Duolingo, reading through old Italian workbooks, etc.) but I wasn’t speaking Italian enough. I was afraid to make mistakes and look like I had no idea what I was doing so I would resort back to English after I was out of my “small talk” comfort zone in Italian. As of late, I have made a pact with myself that I will only speak in Italian to the baristas whenever I go into a local coffee shop. Whenever I don’t know how to say anything, I will always ask the barista how I can say it in Italian and then repeat the sentence over and over in my head. Whenever I have a free chance I will make note of the new phrase on my phone and review it later.

I have seen my Italian improve tenfold after dedicating myself to this for several weeks.  I found that the original reason I was learning Italian was to simply say that I could do it.  After spending so much time in Italy, however, I have realized that I truly want to communicate with the locals in their native tongue. It is a different sensation when you are able to speak in a different language, and one that is almost inexpressibly gratifying. I have found the experience to be both extremely refreshing and empowering, albeit frustrating at times.

Here are some Italian language hacks that I find the most helpful:

  •  Fluentin3months Program – The best technique of all. Take part in the Fluent in 3 Months program. This program is truly incredible. It was founded by a man named Benny, a self proclaimed Irish Polyglot. He speaks seven language and has shaped this course around a unique approach to learning a language. The program is rapidly growing as one of the most powerful and effective language learning programs in the world. Definitely worth checking out!
  • Reading the local newspaper – Have your Google Rranslate app out with you and try and learn 5 new words a day.
  • Change the default language on your phone – This may annoy you at first but you have operated your phone so many times to know which buttons to press, no matter the language.
  • Watch your favorite movie in another language – You know all of the lines, you have seen the movie a million times, why not spice it up and change the language?  Also, you can simply change the subtitles to the desired language and still listen in English.
  • Personal mentor – If you are lucky, you can find a friend who is fluent in the language you want to learn. Tell them you are dedicated to learning a new language and have them talk to you only in that language any time you call them on the phone. You may only get a sentence or two before you have to switch back to English, but you will improve with each phone call.
  • Podcasts – There are too many amazing language learning podcasts to list here.  If you have an iPhone or Android you need to take advantage of this.
  • Youtube – An entire world of “How To” videos are out there for free and at your disposal. It’s as easy as clicking and watching.
  • Books – Yes. They are still a thing. Having a small reference book in your backpack at all times will come in handy, and flipping through it is a great way to spend those spare minutes through the day when you are bored.
  • Duolingo – An iPhone and Android app that is free to download.  The app is structured to make learning a foreign language feel like a game. Spend 15 minutes on Duolingo a day and your progress will skyrocket. Tip: In the Duolingo settings you can set a daily alarm to remind you to practice.
  • Sitting in a local cafe while doing work – You would be surprised by how much you soak in by just listening to the daily interactions of the locals with the baristas.


Spotify Playlists – There are many spotify audio playlists dedicated to teaching Italian. If you are on a long bus or plane ride, this definitely comes in handy.

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