Transparent Language Blog

How Language Learning Makes You Want to Try New Things Posted by on Feb 24, 2016 in Archived Posts

Itchy Feet: Horizons Expanded

Language and culture are hard to separate. You can’t really take one without the other – you can’t fully understand a language without understanding some of the culture in which it thrives, and you certainly can’t understand a culture without fully understanding its language. But to me, that relationship between language and culture actually has an impact on me, and how outgoing I am. Since learning a new language is already a huge step outside your comfort zone, with very tangible risks of losing face, being misunderstood, and sounding like a dopey child, learning languages encourages you to broaden your horizons in other ways, too. It’s all about conquering fears.

Most obviously, language learning encourages you to go to new places. Sometimes you travel because of the language – I moved to Germany specifically to learn German, because it’s part of my cultural heritage (believe it or not, I wasn’t drawn by the rainy weather, often-cranky locals or labyrinthine bureaucracy). More usually, you learn the language because you travel, and that encourages you to travel more. Knowing a language in the local country gets you through all kinds of doors. I’ll never forget traveling through Thailand with my brother, who lives there and speaks Thai – he was constantly catching things said on the street about us, or getting invited into places, or correcting the “accidental” high prices we were being charged.

But learning a new language also encourages you to try out new activities. After learning French, I became enamored with the French game petanque, where you toss steel balls and try to be the closest to the little ball. Not only did learning the language open the door to that game, but playing the game gave me further opportunities to speak French. Learning a language exposes you to a whole array of new things to do, and you’re more likely to do them because you’re already doing the hardest one: learning the language! If you can do that, you can do anything.

And that’s the real reason – learning a language simply makes you comfortable making mistakes, and that frees you up to try new things without fear. Nowhere is that more true than with food. You might think that Italian food is all linguini and tiramisu, but there are plenty of super odd but delicious regional dishes (like Venetian sarde in saor, or Sicilian arancini) that I might never have experienced until I asked locals what they’re having for lunch.

What about you? What experiences have you been exposed to thanks to learning a new language?

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About the Author: Malachi Rempen

Malachi Rempen is an American filmmaker, author, photographer, and cartoonist. Born in Switzerland, raised in Albuquerque, New Mexico, he fled Los Angeles after film school and expatted it in France, Morocco, Italy, and now Berlin, Germany, where he lives with his Italian wife and German cat. "Itchy Feet" is his weekly cartoon chronicle of travel, language learning, and life as an expat.


  1. Eugene:

    Tiramisu is an Italian thing?? O_0

    • Malachi Rempen:

      @Eugene You bet! It literally means “pick-me-up” 🙂

  2. Angelo Maschke:

    By focusing on words that are specific to you, it allows you to quickly build a list of vocabulary that you can use in conversations right away. Not only that, but since the words you’ve learned are relevant to you, you will find them much easier to remember.

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