Although I find El Matador’s post on languages highly entertaining and a better policy than not learning foreign languages at all, I think it’s better to learn them right. You don’t need to be a master linguist but the simple fact is, in most of the travel destinations we recommend people really, really appreciate the effort to learn even of the most basic of phrases. It is a way of showing respect and interest in the culture and customs of the country. There is no better way to dissociate yourself from the typical douchebag western tourist.
You should really learn at least the following basic phrases no matter where you go at a bare minimum:
What is your name?
How are you?
Nice to meet you.
You can manage that no matter how hard the language is. So many of the destinations we recommend visiting are places where the local language is only spoken by 1 to 10 million people and so few people take the time to learn even the basics of these languages. The number of points this is going to score you with the locals is going to blow you away, honestly. Here is a typical exchange in Bulgaria, for example:
Boris: Здрасти! (Zdrasti!) (Hello!)
5’10” Super Model: Здрасти! (Zdrasti!) (Hello!)
Boris: Как си? (Kak ci?) (How are you?)
5’10” Super Model: Добре а ти? (Dobre a ti?) (Good, and you?)
Boris: Добре, мерси. (Dobre, mersi.) (Good, thank you.)
5’10” Super Model: Oh my god, how can you speak Bulgarian so well?
Seriously it’s that easy in the majority of the countries that are good single dude travel destinations. You can learn that much in any language on the plane on your way there no matter how bad you are with languages. You can even learn that in ridiculously difficult tonal languages like Thai or Chinese.
But let’s take it a step further. I think you should make every effort to learn one language well… Maybe not fluent but to the point you can comfortably carry on a casual conversation all night long. Here is my list of languages you should learn in order:
1. Russian – Russian is the most widely spoken Slavic language and it has similarities (to varying degrees) with all the other Slavic languages which are spoken in 75%+ of the other Eastern European countries, there are exceptions like Romania, Albania and many of the Blaltic states. However, many people speak and understand Russian everywhere in Eastern Europe even if their native language is not Slavic based. And as we’ve frequently written, Eastern Europe is one of the key regions for single dudes. Last but not least it will force you to learn the Cyrillic alphabet which is key in and of itself (described further below).
2. Spanish – Like Eastern Europe, Latin America is a key single dude travel region. Spanish is an easy language and being a romance language it will give you a head start on Italian or French should you ever want to learn one or both of those.
3. German – German is quite widely spoken all over the world. There are a number of countries that speak it as a native language but also foreigners all over the world seem to know this language to varying degrees. I’m not sure why this is, perhaps because it’s one of the best technical languages next to English so it provides great career opportunities. Or maybe it’s because German speaking tourists permeate the globe. Perhaps also the fact that German speakers are big in the hospitality industry. German shares a similar grammatical structure with many Slavic languages so if you understand the logic of this language you can take to Bulgarian (for example) very easily.
If you can’t speak the native language the next best thing is to converse with your dream girl in a language that is a second language for both of you. It puts you on even footing and shows that you are as cultured and educated as she is. As we say time and time again, girls outside the US aren’t dumb, they are smart, cultured and highly educated and they appreciate men of the same caliber.
Now to wrap up this article let’s talk about why you should learn the Cyrillic alphabet (learn the Russian variant first and then study the differences for specific target destinations) regardless of the effort you do or don’t invest in gaining a command of a foreign language(s):
1. It’s easier than it looks, although it may look like hieroglyphics it actually only takes about two hours. With few exceptions Cyrillic is pretty much phonetic, there aren’t any rules like “i before e except after c” and there aren’t any silent letters. For the most part Slavic speakers don’t have “spelling class” it’s an obsolete concept for them, you just read and write what you see and hear.
2. It gives you a basis to be able to read and write many different Slavic languages.
3. Like any ability to speak a language it is an impressive skill to demonstrate to a girl. Try writing your favorite Ukrainian sweet heart’s name in Cyrillic for her and watch her face light up.
4. Being able to read the signs in a country even if you don’t know what they mean is a huge advantage. First, it allows you to read street signs and if necessary tell someone where you are. Second, there are a lot of English words used in Slavic languages that you would recognize if you could only read the characters. Examples: песторан(т) (restaurant) or телепефон (telephone).
5. Because of the phonetic nature of Cyrillic it will make it easier for you to teach your new Slavic sweetheart pronunciation of your own language or any other.
Again, while I find El Matador’s approach both hilarious and better than nothing, I really think learning languages is a worth while endeavor that you should take seriously. Once you get to an intermediate level, fine tuning your skills in bed, as El Matador advocates, really starts to become exponentially more beneficial. Besides all the benefits mentioned above it’s just a real thrill when you have your first substantial conversation in a new language or when those hieroglyphic looking Cyrillic characters start clicking into place and you can read and write them without thinking consciously about it.
Good luck and try the following resources to learn languages:
1. Free lessons easily located on google
2. Rosetta Stone programs
3. Pimsleur programs
4. The Michel Thomas Method
5. Watch DVDs frequently in your target language as soon as you gain a intermediate level command of the language
6. Get yourself a Skype girlfriend in your target country and talk with her
7. Private lessons once you arrive, sometimes it’s really cheap
Everybody learns best differently, try different approaches to find out what works for you.