How and Why to Learn a New Language as a Digital Nomad — Andy Sto
Digital nomads are people who travel the world, working in different countries that have a variety of cultures, regions and languages. Living in a new country or city when you don’t know the culture is one thing. But when there’s a new language involved, not being able to speak it can be a major social barrier.
That’s one of the many reasons why digital nomads often try learning new languages. And by nature, they are often people who thrive on new experiences and on engaging with people from a variety of different backgrounds, cultures and languages. But it can be challenging to know where to start with learning a new language.
Below we look at some of the reasons to learn a new language — after all immersive experiences are a great opportunity to challenge yourself and to learn more. We also look at how you can learn new languages using new technology and at some of the most popular languages in the world to learn. Being fluent or at least conversational in another language can come in handy if you plan to travel extensively.
Reasons to learn a new language as a digital nomad
There are so many benefits to learning a new language, no matter what stage of your life you’re in.
1. Access to more business networking opportunities
If you’re able to speak the local language, you can better understand business needs and engage with other business leaders which can spark partnerships and enhance networking. People you deal with will generally be more willing to work with you if they can understand you and if they can see you’ve made the effort to be able to communicate with them. Being able to speak a local language also helps build rapport and trust, which are essential in business dealings and establishing business relationships.
2. Helps you navigate local experiences better
If you can read and write a local language, you will be more aware of things going on around you like politics, events and local news. You will also be able to find your way around more easily, and may waste less time getting lost or confused about where to go or how to do things. Even a simple task of being able to find a local doctor or hospital, could be a challenge if you can’t speak the language. Plus there are lots of activities that you can only take part in if you can speak a local language — like a pub quiz or a seminar series.
3. Keeps you safe and legal
Wherever you go, signs and notices and even radio announcements are usually in local languages. So if you can’t understand them, you could miss out on important notifications. For example, you could miss the fact that taking photographs of state buildings is prohibited and a punishable offense. Or you could miss the sign that says you’re entering a restricted area. Or you may not understand that there are wild animals and you shouldn’t get out of your car. Being able to read and speak local languages can therefore help to keep you legal and safe.
4. Helps you beat loneliness
Travelling the world while working sounds exciting, but many digital nomads complain of loneliness and missing their loved ones and families back home. This can be particularly the case if you travel somewhere where you can’t speak the language and where that hinders you from getting to know people and making friends. Mastering new language skills can really open up opportunities to meet people and make friends and meet locals. Otherwise, you may be tempted to just hang out with other foreigners who speak your language.
5. Lets you connect on a deeper level
You’re bound to enjoy social gatherings a whole lot more if you can understand what’s being said. And you’ll be able to get to know people on a much deeper level if you can communicate with them effectively and have in-depth conversations.
6. Helps you appear polite
It’s often considered a sign of respect if you can speak even just a few words or sentences of the local language. It shows you respect local culture and that you’re willing to make an effort to adapt to your surroundings. This can help you come across as more polite and considerate.
7. Makes you more employable
There’s a large demand for diverse language skills. Entire careers can be dedicated to sectors like translation, tour guiding in foreign languages and business communication across countries.
8. Exercise your brain
Learning new skills, just like learning a new language, can help you to use your brain in new ways. In fact, it’s actually been shown in studies that learning a new language may enhance your brain’s functioning.
9. Save money
If you speak the local language of the place where you’re living, then it’s going to be easier for you to understand the costs of things and where there are specials or opportunities to save money. You will probably also find it easier understanding accommodation and travel bookings and won’t make costly errors.
How to learn a new language: course options and apps
Once you’ve decided that you want to learn a new language, you’ll be happy to know that there are lots of options for how to go about learning that language.
You can attend a language centre course in person or online, you can use books to learn new languages or you can take advantage of some great language learning apps.
There are also many ways to keep up and improve your skills once you have the basics such as talking more with locals, finding a tandem or doing an immersive homestay.
Here are some language learning tools and apps to help you gets started with learning a new language:
- Duolingo: this popular language app has a free version that works really well and a paid premium version. It’s a great place to start learning new language skills — particularly vocabulary. It makes daily practice a simple, fun task and it helps keep you motivated by providing bite-sized lessons that don’t overwhelm, along with points you earn and the incentive to progress to higher levels. Duolingo gives you exercises which increase gradually in complexity as you master new skills. It also boasts a really large assortment of languages that you can learn.
- Babbel: Babbel is a subscription based language app for desktop or mobile devices that lets you learn at your own pace. Babbel offers various languages to choose from like French, Russian, Dutch, Swedish and German. It’s a useful app to help give you tips and guidance on pronunciation and to build your conversation skills.
- Tandem: This language learning exchange community lets you learn from over 300 languages by chatting with people in your chosen language — which even includes 12 sign languages. Tandem is a great way to learn conversational language skills for everyday life and can help boost your vocabulary and pronunciation. The way this app works is by selecting a partner who speaks the language you want to learn and who has matching interests and language goals — like a language learning version of ‘pen pals’.
- 50 Languages: The 50Languages app lets you learn anytime, anywhere at your own pace. You’ll be given vocabulary to learn, foreign numbers, and will be able to test your language skills. You’ll also get to download MP3 audio files and can choose to learn from over 500 different languages such as Afrikaans, Tamil, Albanian, Vietnamese, Danish, Bengali, Catalan, Norwegian, Polish and Macedonian.
- Italki: Italki is an online learning course that specializes in providing 1-on-1 lessons in over 150 languages, where you get to engage with certified teachers from across the globe. This way you get to study at your own pace and get to learn about different cultures at the same time. As part of the programme, you can build connections with the italki community where you can converse with native speakers and share experiences with them — building language skills and making connections around the world.
- LingoLearn: This online language school offers a virtual classroom where you can learn by joining small groups or you can take private lessons to learn a wide range of foreign languages. This helps build conversational fluency and gives you the personal support to progress in your language learning skills.
The most important languages to learn for remote work
It’s worth considering which languages will stand you in good stead in the online work environment as a digital nomad or remote worker.
According to FlexJobs, these are some of the most in-demand foreign languages which you can use in remote work sectors:
Final thoughts on learning new languages as a digital nomad
If you’re travelling somewhere new, then it may be quite convenient to learn one of the local languages there. That way you get to practice speaking and reading the language while being immersed in the new city or town. And you get to take advantage of all the benefits associated with being able to speak the local language.
New media and new technology have revolutionised language learning — with online language apps, online language videos and courses and the ability to have online lessons anywhere in the world. That makes learning a new language easier than ever. All it takes is the effort and motivation to keep practicing — and in some cases, the cost of tuition.