What the Language you Learn Abroad Says About You

by Niki Kraska

Forget personality tests and fortune-tellers, just tell someone where your language study abroad program was and they’ll be able to figure out enough about you.

Didn’t know you were giving yourself away by choosing a specific language? It’s just like telling someone your favorite ice-cream flavor (Vanilla = plain Jane, double Chocolate = likes to indulge, Rocky Road = takes the road less traveled); kind of accurate and kind of arbitrary.

Table in a cafe with a French press
If you took intensive French abroad, you can take your coffee black and your cheese smeared on a baguette.

Alright alright, we can’t actually stereotype people who learn a language abroad, that would be like stereotyping people by country, and we, as travelers, know better than that. But, in the name of plain ‘ol fun, let’s imagine that we could learn everything about you based solely on your choices for language study abroad. If this were all true, here’s what we’d know about you if you chose to learn... 

French

The second your grade school or high school offered French you said “Oui, oui!” But even before your first class, you were studying chic fashion trends, perfecting a homemade croissant, and figuring out the perfect wine and cheese pairings (even if you were still too young to actually taste it).

You’ve been waiting for the opportunity to rid yourself of unrefined peers who can’t pronounce pont l’evêque or fromage de meaux (names of cheeses for us unrefined people). You’re most likely a food snob, or a film snob, maybe just a snob snob, but probably a sexy snob. Either way studying French in France is the perfect opportunity for you to fine-tune your second language skills. 

Studying French outside of France you say? Well then we think you are just plain cool. There are over 50 countries in La Francophonie, and you, my friend, must be pretty culturally sophisticated to pick a language study abroad program that could take you anywhere from Senegal to Belgium.

Plate of tapas
Spanish language learners take their tapas at 10 p.m., with a heaping side of pragmatism.

Spanish

Mexico City or Barcelona, it doesn’t matter, pragmatic is your middle name. You’re sick of getting by with English everywhere and want to study a language abroad that’s useful (as in second most used language in the world!) and in a country that’s not going to cater to your English-speaking needs (everything will, in fact, be in Spanish).

Or maybe you’re a night owl. You prefer eating dinner after 9 p.m., staying out with friends until the sun rises, and dragging your feet into class tired the next day. Don’t worry, you’ll be fine, everyone else will be right there along with you, sneaking in chips and salsa between classes for fuel.

If you live in or plan to live in the United States, then you are simply wise. The U.S. has the second largest number of Spanish speakers in the world (what up Mexico?!), so no matter what field you decide to work in, knowing Spanish will be beneficial (and you’ll probably enjoy teasing those who chose German or Italian and now have gotten rusty with no one to chat with). 

Chinese

You’re a top dog. As the most  spoken language in the world, you’re drawn by the status of being able to talk to the highest number of people possible. You probably have dreams of being a big-shot business man/woman who will excel in the international world with your Chinese speaking ways. 

Or you just really like all the “learn Chinese” vocabulary you’ve picked up over the years of eating fortune cookies and have finally decided the time has come to learn the whole language. Who cares that you need to learn at least 3,000 characters to get a grasp of written Chinese, and thousands more to be fluent; that doesn’t deter you, you challenge-lover you. 

Dim sum
You like a challenge and good dim sum. 

Arabic

Ambitious! Need I say more? Ok I’ll say more.

You might be a workaholic and enjoy the idea of learning a language abroad for learning’s sake. From writing backwards to changing the shape of letters depending on where they are in the word (wait, what?!), you strangely enjoy all the extra effort your brain will have to make while studying Arabic abroad. Maybe you want bragging rights after tackling this beast of a language, or a bigger ego, unlike your sissy romance language learning friends.

You’re also a trendsetter. Not many westerners learn Arabic. You not only are the cool-kid-on-the-block, you’re setting yourself up as a unique professional in business, economics, and more in our globalized workforce through learning a language abroad. 

English

Hmmm you like to be confused? And you like to be on your toes. The second you think you understand an English language rule, a curveball is thrown. Boxes, foxes, oxen? Not to mention all the words that sound the same but are spelled completely different, and the words that are spelled the same but mean different things! 

You also like to be in the know. Not only is English the official or primary language in over 50 countries, people all over the world learn it as a second or foreign language. This makes English a common universal language amongst tourists, volunteers, students, interns, and employees abroad.

More than just being practical, you are also empathetic. You feel sorry for the American travelers who can’t figure out how to order a coffee or ask for directions in your country. English-language learner to the rescue. 

Stack of English books in a bookstore
English language learners are both practical and empathetic to the plight of American travelers who lack proper secondary language education.

German/Russian/Polish/Hebrew

You’re probably German, Russian, Polish, or Israeli respectively. 

You’re proud of your lineage and culture. Your grandparents will appreciate you regardless if the language is useful in day-to-day life or not. You most likely will be purposefully planning trips to countries you can put your foreign language study to use in order to say “see, I did need it!” to those who doubted your choice. 

Otherwise, you really didn’t want to conform to the typical Spanish or French options, and picked the one that sounded cool. While you may or may not get sick of hearing “how do you say xyz in Russian??” from your friends all the time, you will definitely have fun laughing at them as they try to mimic the accent.

No matter what language you choose, AT LEAST CHOOSE ONE!

What fun is it to live your life speaking one language when there are 6,500 languages around the world! Not only is learning a language abroad fun and helpful to you as a traveler, the benefits span the spectrum.

As our interconnected world gets smaller and smaller, you are guaranteed to meet friends, colleagues, even family members that speak another language than your own. Nowadays, virtually any career will benefit from foreign language study. Doing business, traveling with your theatre troupe, working on engineer projects ALL are more impactful when you can not only work with locals in English, but also in their native language. 

The more culturally aware and adept we are within the countries we travel, the more meaningful our travel is.

With cultural awareness comes language. Impress your friends, but more importantly develop yourself, as you master the true art of language study abroad