I would not recommend that an adult over thirty spend too much time learning a language. By then, it’s too late for most people. But living abroad at a young age is an invaluable experience. On multiple levels.
I admit that this bias comes from my own background. I first lived in Japan when I attended a rural public high school at the age seventeen. Being a teenager, it was pretty easy to learn the language, or at least easier than many people who I see trying to learn in college or as professionals…
But there’s more to speaking a foreign language than speaking a foreign language. Effectively wielding the skill requires a “sense” and understanding of a different culture and people. Living in Japan taught me much about Japan, but also concepts of linguistics and insight into human nature. You learn to deal with the fact that some things can never be translated; different cultures think and act differently; you must learn to say the “same thing” in different ways; the appropriateness of ettiquette, humor, and custom varies wildly; and much more.
First off: he went to live in Japan at age seventeen? How jealous am I?
Second, the post has got a lot of comments from language enthusiasts such as myself, who all heartily agree. Nevertheless, if language is your thing, your specialty that you love doing and plan to use in any future career, you’ll naturally view it as important. I believe travel is great for broadening the mind and enhancing your outlook on life, but without an insight into the cultures you visit, your experiences will undoubtedly be shallower than otherwise. Languages, for me, are the best way to that insight. The conclusion: travel all you want, but at least pick up a bit of the lingo while you’re there.