Five Tips for Learning Languages During Travels

March 4th, 2015 | Posted by Tommaso in tips - (Comments Off on Five Tips for Learning Languages During Travels)

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.

French @ Italki Challenge: halfway there!

February 11th, 2015 | Posted by Jim in feature | Language Challenge | Motivation | tips - (Comments Off on French @ Italki Challenge: halfway there!)

Siskia L. runs a popular language learning blog called The Polyglotist and is taking part in our New Year’s Language Challenge to learn French. We found this great post about her experiences with the language challenge and wanted to share this with other Challengers!  Reprinted with permission. Original post here.

Incredibly, last Thursday I did my 12th hour of French for the italki Language Challenge (out of 20 required to complete it). More incredibly, I also got pretty sick this very week, so I didn’t actually do as many hours as I had expected to. Anyway, here’s…


I think it’s the first time I’ve put such intensity into one language. I don’t mean to say I’m more interested in French than I’ve been in any of my other languages (both serious attemps and light dabbling), but since I started this language I’ve progressed in a very natural way. Putting in one hour of conversation and anywhere between 30 min and 3 hours of self-study into this project just feels right.

This reminds me that as of late, I’ve been more conscious about my study hours than usual. This is not because I suddenly felt I should be more mathematical about my study methods, but rather because I am currently participating in the 6 Week Challenge, which requires its participants to log their study hours through a Twitter bot. In the beginning I thought this wouldn’t really influence me to study any more or any less than I was in the first place, but the effect of participating in what’s in essence a “race” has been quite interesting in the sense that knowing I’m in this with other people stimulates me to try harder. I’m not so interested in knowing in what place I am currently (although it’s fun to race other people learning my language as well, haha) rather than knowing how I’m distributing my study hours, doing what, and how. All these things one can keep track of through the challenge, so it’s good statistical data.

Partly because of participating in this challenge, partly because I’ve realized structure and form lead to better results, I’ve been trying to improve the way in which I administer my time and agenda. (Not that I did a very good job at that this week, what with work and school and more work and feeling pretty damn under the weather, but anyhoo…)


I’m actually talking in French for about 75-80% of my italki sessions, only going back into Spanish or English when I am absolutely at a loss for words: I’ve noticed that this isn’t when I try to use regular words: for the most part, it’s when my mind tries to translate a colloquial expression from English into French. Unless I’ve heard that expression before and know its French equivalent, my brain’s language monitoring center usually goes on full blown red alert and tells me not to use that expression.

Will Robinson

I have got to stop being so cautious and just dive in. I know better than anyone that making these particular mistakes is essential for the learning process, but old habits die hard. The funny part is, this doesn’t happen with regular words, only with expressions where I mean to imply something figuratively or where cultural references come into play.

Speaking of words, I’ve noticed two interesting things about my French: my source for words I haven’t heard before tends to be English (knowing that a good deal of the English lexicon derived from French), while my reference for correct French grammar tends to be Italian. By this I mean that when I speak in French and try a new word I haven’t used before, my first impulse is to look for it in my mental English database, and only when I notice the word doesn’t sound French, do I look for it in a dictionary. While I’m hard pressed to say this always works, several English words have turned to be the same in French, so while I build a better lexicon in this language, this may not be a bad method to keep the conversation in French territory (instead of jumping back into English every so often) .

My theory now is that as a language student, one will use whatever one’s got in the pantry to hold on to the language while at the same time creating a more accurate linguistic base through classes, study, tutoring, etc. Maybe that’s the reason why we tend to translate our thoughts literally?


After some hits and misses, I’ve run into incredibly good teachers that focus on monitoring both my vocabulary and pronunciation. Getting the pronunciation right has been a gruelling task, and I’m incredibly far from having it down pat, but at least I’m being pointed in the right direction all the time.

Probably one of the things I’m enjoying the most about this language project is the HUGE resources gap between French and my last language, Nahuatl. After spending most of 2014 pretty much doing detective work, looking everywhere for hints of where to learn Nahuatl and how, finding self-study resources in French is turning out to be a walk in the park.

Right now I’m enjoying several different listening-comprehension resources. I’m planning to summarize the best and most effective ones in a later post, but here’s just a little bite of what I would recommend to anybody wanting an ear-workout in French:

  • Apprendre le français avec TV5MONDE and 7 jours sur la planète: level-graded videos, with transcripts, exercises and explanations of recent, up-to-date and useful vocabulary. 7 jours has an app (available for both iOS and Android), excellent for taking your comprehension exercises on the road.
  • FluentU: although officially in beta right now, it’s an excellent video-based resource to listen to French (also available for Chinese, Japanese, German, Spanish and English). It’s based on phrase-by-phrase video segments, using a type of “subtitle” technology that stops the video when you hover over a word you don’t know. It also has vocabulary exercises available, and when you use these, the system remembers what words you remember and what you don’t. Since these are saved in your account, your word database applies to all the videos in the system, meaning that the system is able to suggest videos perfect for your vocabulary level!
  • Français Authentique: this is a very complete site and I honestly recommend Johan’s learning materials to ANYONE, but the part that I use the most is his podcasts. In these, he explains complex concepts and ideas in slow, easy-to-understand French, and they’re available completely free of charge in his website and in the Podcast section of Itunes.

Well, that’s it for now. I have several very interesting ideas and projects lined up for The Polyglotist, and I’d love to share them with you… but not yet! ;D

Check out Videos of Students Who Completed the October Challenge

The New Year is fast approaching.  As 2014 comes to a close, it’s important to think about your goals and resolutions for the year of 2015.  We hope you remember to put learning a foreign language on your list. After all, italki is providing a perfect chance to get you started and stay motivated with the italki 2015 New Year’s Language Challenge.

To help get you motivated, we wanted to show you some of the videos that  our students made after they completed the last language challenge in October.  Everyone had good things to say about the last challenge and we hope that watching these videos will convince you to participate yourself. Don’t miss out on this great opportunity!

Lindsay (Japanese): 12 hours in one month completed!

An enthusiastic language learner who learned Portuguese through the World Cup Language Challenge, was back for more this past Fall.  Japanese is not an easy language to learn but she put in her hours and made significant gains!  We look forward to seeing what she will be capable of achieving this upcoming year.



Crystal (Spanish): 12 hours in one month completed!

Crystal has been a member on our site for two years now.  She has been diligently working to increase her fluency in Spanish, a language that she “absolutely loves!”  She took full advantage of the October challenge to do so.  We hope to see her take on the Challenge this January.




I Finished the italki October Language Challenge Early!

October 20th, 2014 | Posted by Jim in Language Challenge | Learning Japanese | Motivation | tips - (Comments Off on I Finished the italki October Language Challenge Early!)

This blog post reposted with permission. Originally appeared here on Kokothepolyglot’s blog site.
I Finished The Italki October Language Challenge Early!
-15 October, 2014 By Koko Polyglot

Well this is an unexpected but pleasant surprise! Not only am I happy to announce that I’ve already completed the italki October Language Challenge early but I also got in one extra lesson as well. How cool is that? I guess the third time really was the charm. Since I have a lot going on this month, I had to book as many sessions in a short amount of time. Which meant there were times I had 3 lessons in one day! That was intense but I have to say my spoken Japanese has made quite a bit of improvement.

Book All Your Sessions Ahead Of Time

girl-408066_1280This is probably one of the best tips LindsayDoesLanguages recommends and this time it worked out really well for me! I made sure that I booked all if not most prior to the sessions themselves. Especially since I joined the language later than I did the last two. But unlike the last two, I was able to make sure every lesson was booked accordingly. Which meant taking up to three sessions in one day while tutoring students as well! By booking in advance you can work your schedule around the sessions instead of trying to fit them in when you can.

I think my biggest mistake in the previous challenges was that I did not book enough sessions in advance. Had I done that I would have been able to take all sessions and even have time to reschedule ones that conflicted with the tutor’s schedule.

Use A Variety Of Tutors

This might be better advice for some languages rather than others. Especially if there aren’t many tutors for your target language. Luckily, Japanese is popular enough that I was able to use a wide variety of tutors to work with. Each Community Tutor and Professional Teacher have their unique method of teaching that you could benefit from the variety while finding out which tutors are best for you. Find tutors who cater to your specific needs and go from there. I recommend the following tutors for Japanese: Annie, Haru, Gosxi, Koichi, momonoki01, Tomaliko, Yuki, Tatsu, Masa, and Teacher 華子 (Hanako).

If you’re looking for reading practice during your session I would recommend Noriko just for that.

多分人気な言語の方が便利アドバイスでしょう。特に希有な言語のチューターが少ないです。日本語は大人気な言語ですから、チューターが多いです。各レッスンはいつも違いますので、色々なチューターのレッスンを取ってみた方がいいです。あなた達の一番チューターを見つけましょう。おすすめチューターはAnnieさん、Haruさん、Gosxiさん、康一さん、桃の木01さん、Tomalikoさん、Yukiさん, Tatsuさん、Masaさん、と華子です


Focus On What You Want To Accomplish

Setting goals for what you would like to achieve in your target language is important. My main goal for Japanese was to express myself more fluidly when I spoke. I felt like I was about to complete that goal because it was my primary focus. While I did get reading in, I didn’t get a chance to read the Nightmare Before Christmas in Japanese yet. So maybe I’ll get a chance to read at least the first two chapters before the end of the month. I’ll will keep you updated on how that goes and what unique words I’ve learned along the way.

I always try to do something to keep me motivated during these challenges and doing a multitude of things can help you improve both input (reading and listening) as well as output (speaking and writing).

What Next?

I’m going to be focusing on Japanese for quite some time but moving on to my next language adventure. I will keep you updated when it is needed to be revealed. In the meantime, I will be attempting to read the Nightmare Before Christmas completely in Japanese. My goal for that was to read at least two chapters. This will be my make priority for Japanese next week. I will also be doing my SRS repetitions on Memrise and LingQ as well as watch interesting content in Japanese.

How are you doing in the italki October Language Challenge? Have you completed the challenge already? Still have a ways to go? Almost done? I would love to hear about your progress!



September 25th, 2014 | Posted by Jim in Motivation | tips - (Comments Off on HOW TO LEARN ANY LANGUAGE ANYWHERE)

We discovered this post on Backpacking Brunette, it’s a great blog written by Alex who is living her post-college life exploring new cities, experiencing new cultures and meeting new people.  In this particular blog post, she shares how she has been learning Spanish and how she uses italki to help her reach her language learning goals.  When we read it, we wanted to share this with the entire italki community as it’s full of great tips and suggestions on how to get the most out of italki.  Reposted with permission from Alex.  Original post here.

IMG_0181One of the reasons I decided to au pair in Spain is because I’ve always had an interest in learning Spanish.

I completed four years of Spanish classes in high school, but unfortunately, I did not continue my language studies in college. I could kick myself for that now. In preparation of living in a village where the majority of people do not speak any English, I brushed up on my Spanish with the help of a website called italki.

You can learn absolutely anything nowadays without even leaving the comfort of your home thanks to the internet. It’s amazing. My boyfriend, Taylor, discovered the wonders of italki when he was searching for native speakers to practice his Spanish with (unlike me, he actually stuck with it in college). He also used the site to learn some Italian before we went to Europe! (more…)