Languages and travel are two words that are difficult to separate, since you learn key words when visiting other countries. Luckily if you’re trying to learn the language, being a traveller offers many benefits. For example, being forced to learn vocabulary and basic grammar changes how you approach the language. Quickly putting what you just learned into use helps you remember it better. If you don’t, good luck knowing how to get out of the subway station, and even better luck asking for help. Another benefit is that you can now link vocabulary you’ve learned to feelings and experiences of your travels, helping them stay in your memory.
Without further ado, here are our top five tips for learning languages during your travels:
1. Learn the basics before your trip. Don’t fill your head up with complex grammatical structures and vocabulary which you really aren’t going to use during your trip. Actually, do the opposite: Learn simple vocabulary, such as “hello”, “thank you”, “how are you”, etc. Also make a list of the activities you plan on doing, such as the food you will eat, your means of transport and the places you plan to visit.
In action: I know memorizing new words and phrases can be challenging. To make it easier, try to connect words with your anticipated image of them. Regarding your pronunciation, Google translate has a voice option you can use to listen to words you aren’t sure about. After hearing a word be pronounced, make a connection between two syllables that sound similar in your language and the language you’re learning.
2. Get a good phrasebook. Learn complete sentences related to situations such as ordering food in a restaurant, asking for help on how to get somewhere and introducing yourself to a new person. When preparing for your trip, you need to optimize your efforts. Stay away from long, complex learning material, and instead, use resources that ease the learning process.
In action: The Internet puts many free resources at your disposal. A great option is MosaLingua’s travel phrasebooks. They’re incredibly useful, containing expressions and phrases you are going to use on your travels. You can download them free off their blog.
3. Be sociable. Not everyone is comfortable initiating conversation. Making matters worse is not having mastered the language you’re speaking! However, your success at finding people to speak and practice with depends on your determination, and above all, finding the correct people and context with which to do so. Seek out activities and locations where you’ll be around people who are locals but also travelers like you. In doing this, you can feel a little more comfortable speaking with somebody who has been in your shoes before and who can possibly relate to the stress of learning a new language.
In action: An increasingly popular decision for this is Couchsurfing, an online travelers’ community which offers infinite possibilities for meeting other travelers whose countries and cities you want to visit.
4. Stray from tourist hotspots. Participating in a tour can be enjoyable and a new opportunity to meet people, but if you want to learn the language and approach the culture of your destination, you should avoid these and other tourist clichés.
In action: Try searching the web for a short course or an open lecture (in a university, cultural center or museum) you would find interesting. Learning vocabulary is great, but you have to get a feel for the pronunciation and intonation of the language. Spur small talk with taxi drivers, vendors or welcome center employees about their favorite lesser known locations.
5. Do not cave in and speak your native language. Restaurants in Amsterdam and Camden Town, London might surprise you, because when you order your meal, they usually respond in your language. As a native English speaker visiting Berlin, I was surprised when a local answered me in English after I had asked how to get somewhere in German!
In action: Prepare yourself to be placed in these situations, and always act with courtesy and continue to speak the language you’re learning. Keep in mind that the locals will speak your language in order to facilitate the conversation, yet while you are in the bars or cafes, the locals may be more willing to listen and talk to you although you can’t speak their language fluently.
Good luck on your travels!
Author: Mildred Sarachaga.
Mildred creates content for MosaLingua blog since 2012, her articles are focused on her experience living and learning English in the UK. Mildred is from Bogota, Colombia and recently got a Masters in International Development: Poverty, Conflict and Reconstruction from The University of Manchester.