How Traveling With A Family Is Improving My Language Immersion

  • Donovan Nagel
    Written byDonovan Nagel
    Donovan NagelTeacher, translator, polyglot
    🎓 B.A., Theology, Australian College of Theology, NSW
    🎓 M.A., Applied Linguistics, University of New England, NSW

    Applied Linguistics graduate, teacher and translator. Founder of The Mezzofanti Guild and Talk In Arabic.
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How Traveling With A Family Is Improving My Language Immersion

Greetings from Jordan!

I realize it’s been a while since I posted an actual update on what I’ve been doing.

I’ll be sharing details with you on what I’m specifically doing in Jordan next week but today I want to touch on something else.

You might remember that earlier this year I shared that we had our first child (son) and how I anticipated that it would significantly change the focus of what I do here on The Mezzofanti Guild.

For almost 6 years I documented my language immersion in various parts of the world, moving around and basing myself in places like Korea, Russia, Egypt, Qatar, Georgia, Turkey, Ireland and Italy.

All as a solo traveller.

But while being single and “free” was fun and had its advantages, the solo, living out of a suitcase thing got really old.

Believe it or not, it loses its thrill when you have nobody to experience it with and getting on a plane to go somewhere starts to feel like a dreaded bus ride to a job you hate.

I came to a decision that I wanted to continue doing what I love – traveling, immersing myself in different languages – but at the same time sharing it all with a family of my own.

Getting old while possessing nothing but cool experiences and visa stamps in my passport seemed like a pointlessly depressing pursuit.

So fast forward to now, our son is 8 months old(!) and we just made a last minute decision to take him on his first trip to the Arab world.

Is it safe?

Well a heck of a lot safer than Las Vegas apparently.

It’s important to me that my son grows up completely familiar with and at home in other cultures and languages (especially Arabic).

The earlier I get him exposed, the better! 🙂

It’s also important that my wife is part of what I’m doing so that my home life and my ‘language immersion life’ aren’t two separate worlds (compartmentalizing life like that is not healthy for a marriage anyway).

The superficiality of relationships doing solo travel and language immersion

I might sound a little too harsh on myself here.

But this trip as a family has really opened my eyes to something I had never given consideration to before in all my travels while solo.

And that is: the quality and maturity of the friendships we’re making which seem to be so much richer and more real.

I’ve finally grown up.

I’m just now realizing how selfish and frankly infantile things had been beforehand in my interaction with people everywhere I moved. As far as the topics and content of foreign language use go – my conversations aren’t all about me anymore.

Side note: I’ve always disliked the beta male Peter Pan travel bloggers with the “who needs marriage and responsibilities when I can just travel and be a man-child forever” attitude.

— Now even more so.

In many ways, this is the most challenging language immersion I’ve ever done – even though it’s in Arabic which is my strongest language.

How so?

Because for the first time, I’ve found myself wanting to communicate on a very non-superficial level about familial, financial and emotional issues which were never really important or relevant to me before being a husband and father.

Not just our issues either.

I’ll divulge more about these conversations in my next post as I’ve had some powerful and life-changing encounters that have really pushed me to a new level in more ways than one.

As crazy as this may sound to my long-time readers, this feels like my first ‘adult’ language immersion trip.

It does come with a new set of challenges however

There are a few things I’ve found to be a challenging adjustment.

Firstly, even singles know that whenever you travel to a place where you’re fluent in the language but your family or travel companions aren’t, it can become highly stressful.

You’re basically working as an interpreter the whole time.

While this has forced me to improve even more quickly (sometimes my wife will ask me to communicate something that I find genuinely challenging to explain and therefore have to figure out a way to do it), it’s also very fatiguing.

A few times toward the end of the day I had to literally say:

“My brain has had enough of this.”

You have to stay aware of what’s happening in English, keep an eye on your family to make sure they’re okay, while at the same time thinking in and speaking Arabic.

I can’t emphasize how exhausting this is.

Thinking in a foreign language is easy but when you have to think back-and-forth in two languages, it’s something else entirely.

I kind of experienced this 3 years ago in Egypt when my Italian friends visited me there and I was the middle man between them and the Egyptians but having a family of my own who I’m responsible for just upped the challenge big league.

Another challenge for me (and something I do consider an advantage of traveling single) is lack of flexibility with time and random encounters.

One of the things I love about the Middle East is that every day is unpredictable.

I’ve had countless days where I’ve simply gone to the store to buy something in the morning and ended up returning home late in the evening because some random person I met invited me to their home.

With a family and young baby, things need to be a little more organized most of the time.

Doesn’t mean you can’t take advantage of these random encounters – it just means you have to be selective.

Traveling as a family is a massive door-opener for language immersion

Language Learning Family

Especially so being in the Middle East.

I’ve always found Arabic speakers to be incredibly welcoming, easy to befriend and practice their language with.

More than anywhere else I’ve been in the world in fact.

But having a family with a baby in Jordan is like walking around with a conversation magnet and an instant badge of respect.

I now see that beforehand when I was staying Egypt or Jordan as a young, unmarried guy, I was just one of the shabaab [شباب] (youth).

There’s an unmistakable difference in the way people treat you when you’re married with kids here. I kind of knew this already in theory but experiencing it for the first time has been something else.

By the way, it’s a buzz when people refer to me by the title ‘Abu Aidan’ (the father of Aidan) rather than my first name, Donovan. 🙂

We’ve made a lot of new Jordanian, Iraqi and Syrian friends.

And I’m absolutely positive a lot of it wouldn’t have happened if I was solo.

I’ll send out an email update next week sharing some of the mind-blowing encounters and experiences we’ve been having here.

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Cardinal MezzofantiCardinal Guiseppe Mezzofanti was a 19th century polyglot who is believed to have spoken at least 39 languages!Learn more
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Donovan Nagel
Donovan Nagel - B. Th, MA AppLing
I'm an Applied Linguistics graduate, teacher and translator with a passion for language learning (especially Arabic).
Currently learning: Greek


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Shasha Williams

Shasha Williams

Hello! Just came across your site! Excited to find you. I signed up for the trial for Mondly. I see a sound button that turns into a snail when I hit it but I never hear any sentences being demonstrated. Only the spelling (to sound out the words) is this how it works? Does Mondly not actually let you hear the sentences/words said correctly aloud???



This is really interesting! It’s fascinating how you have noticed all of this changing, specially how it’s related with languages. Looking forward to reading more.

Donovan Nagel

Donovan Nagel

Appreciate the kind words, Sam. Thanks.

John M

John M

I loved your perspective in this post! Looking forward to more like it.

Donovan Nagel

Donovan Nagel

Thanks John.

"The limits of my language mean the limits of my world."
- Ludwig Wittgenstein
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