If you’re a native English speaker, you’ll feel most at home in Europe and North America, as well as in some parts of Asia, since this is where the English language is commonly spoken. If you’re bilingual or multilingual, you’re one step ahead if you speak French, Spanish, Chinese, Arabic, and/or Russian.
Language Tips for Travelers:
Before you venture out to the country of your choice, where your language isn’t spoken, try to learn some phrases before you arrive there. While standard greetings like "hello," "goodbye," "please," "thank you,"
etc. may not get you very far, it’ll put some smiles on the locals’ faces.
Other useful phrases include "Please speak slowly"
and "I don't know," "Do you speak English?", "How much does this cost?”
as well as words for emergencies and help. We suggest that you carry them around in a phrase book.
Use hand gestures to get the meaning across, but check the etiquette to make sure you’re not offensive. Or draw pictures in your notebook, you might think it looks like a first-grader drawing, but this could help you communicate.
You could also use your smartphone, but make sure you’ve installed one of the many dictionary or translation apps out there.
If you befriend a local, recruit them to become your language teacher, even if for a short period of time.
If you find yourself in a difficult legal or emergency situation, don’t hesitate to hire a professional interpreter.
As the official language in 29 countries, French is most widely used in its home country and parts of Europe like Luxembourg, Monaco, Aosta Valley (Italy), Wallonia (Belgium), parts of Switzerland, Africa, and French overseas territories.
It’s the second official language in Canada. French is mostly spoken as a second language across Africa, but also as a first language in Abidjan, Ivory Coast, and Gabon. Through contact with various indigenous languages, African French has become very diverse. You’ll also hear French spoken in India, in former French colonies, as well as in French Indochina, Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia, Lebanon, Syria, Israel, UAE, as well as some parts of Australasia and Oceania.
Spanish has the most speakers in South America and Spain; however, it has hundreds of millions of native speakers. For example, in the US alone, the Latin-American minority has become the country’s largest ethnical group enabling the spread of the language and its accompanying culture
Just how important is Spanish? Well, it’s one of the official languages of the UN, the European Union, and many other international organizations. Spanish is the official language in 21 states and territories so spin that globe freely and choose your next destination.
Chinese is rich and very widespread but it also covers different language varieties. 1.2 billion people (around 16% of the world’s total population) speak some form of Chinese as their mother tongue. So you do the math, whether it’s worth learning a character or two that are more than popular upper arm tattoos. There are many regional forms of Chinese, so it's hard to find an appropriate classification for them. The most widely spoken by far is Mandarin Chinese (about 960 million people), followed by Wu (80 million), Yue (60 million) and Min (70 million). Standard Chinese is based on the Beijing dialect of Mandarin, which is the official language of China and Taiwan, and is one of four official languages in Singapore. A variety of Yue and Cantonese is mostly spoken in Hong Kong and Macau.
Another one of the most widespread languages in the world is Arabic. It is spoken as an official language across Western Asia, North Africa, and the Horn of Africa. If we take it as a single entity, 422 million speakers (native and non-native) speak the language, making it one of the six most spoken languages. The most prominent would be Egyptian Arabic with 89 million native speakers. Arabic is also a liturgical language of 1.6 billion Muslims around the world and one of the official languages of the UN. Thanks to its rich history, Arabic has influenced other world languages like Persian, Turkish, Urdu, Kurdish, Bosnian, Kazakh, Bengali, Hindi, Malay, Maldivian, Indonesian, Pashto, Punjabi, Tagalog, Sindhi and Hausa. Apart from being able to read the beautiful squiggly script from right-to- left, you’ll also feel at home in many places in this world.
Russian is an East-Slavic language, with as many as 150 million native speakers, and 260 million people, if we include the second language learners. It’s the official language in Russia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, and is also spoken in the Ukraine, Latvia, Estonia and most ex-Soviet countries. Russian is the eighth most spoken language in the world if we look at the number of native speakers, and the seventh by a total number of speakers. If you speak this sweet-sounding language written in the Cyrillic alphabet, you’ll have no trouble finding your way in glorious Russia, parts of Eastern Europe, the Balkans, and Baltic countries.