My mastery of the English language has improved dramatically since I started traveling.
I’m primarily interacting with non-native speakers, so I spend most of my time speaking very simple English. As a result, I have to think carefully about which words I use and how I use them.
Back at university, I found that teaching others helped me learn faster, and better. Concepts stuck with me because I had to explain them in different ways to different people, pondering perspectives I wouldn’t have considered had I simply learned a concept and moved on.
The same is true with my use of language. The more I converse with non-native speakers of English, the more I find myself explaining why vowels sound a certain way, or how to combine words to express larger ideas.
It’s strange, because I grew up with English, yet frequently find myself coming up short when trying to explain why words bend a certain way, or why certain nonsensical rules apply in some circumstances but not others.
Einstein once said if you can’t explain something simply, you don’t understand it well enough. I tend to agree, as the ability to shrug convolution from a lesson seems to be the hallmark of a true master.
I feel fortunate to be surrounded by people I can teach, and who are in turn teaching me so much.
Update: April 13, 2017
This is still the case. I often learn interesting turns-of-phrase from non-native English speakers. They don’t know the “correct” way to use the grammar, so they come up with their own, or adhere to local usage, and in many cases that usage is just far more interesting, or even more correct in some ways, than what I grew up with.