Have you ever sat down with a map, your phrasebook and your camera, ready to take on the world? Have you found yourself in situations where communication was difficult and you felt like giving up because actually having a conversation with someone wasn’t possible? Well, we’ve all been there. Learning a language while travelling is not easy. Sure, you might be able to read the menu in a restaurant or understand the story of your tour guide, but actually having a conversation with someone? That’s tough!
Language learning experts, Simon & Simon have shared below tips on learning the language while travelling.
Top 19 Tips on How to Learn Foreign Languages While Travelling
1. Start by learning numbers and greetings:
You’ll use these over and over again when you’re travelling! Learning ‘Hello’, ‘Goodbye’, ‘Thank you, etcetera will give you an excellent head start in any language. And besides, it’s good manners!
2. Research the language:
The more you can prepare, the easier it’ll be when you’re there. Look at the basics like numbers and common phrases/greetings, and try to learn how they conjugate verbs (for example I want.. You want.. We want…)
3. Watch TV shows and movies targeted at native speakers:
While it’s great to learn from a phrasebook or online translation service, it can be helpful to watch TV shows or films that are aimed at native speakers. This will allow you to interact with the language more naturally and start practicing what you’ve learnt in real-life situations!
4. Ask for help when you need it:
You can never ask “How do you say ____ ?” too many times. You’ll find that when you’re travelling, people are more than happy to help you out – after all, they might have even asked the same things when they were learning their own languages.
Local, native speakers appreciate it when travelers and holiday-makers use their language, even if it’s only a few words you can remember!
5. Make travel friends who speak your target language:
If you’re in a country with several languages, such as Switzerland, where there are three official languages (German, French and Italian), meeting native speakers of other languages can help you become fluent much faster. Making friends in the country you’re travelling in is also a wonderful way to see the country you’re in, and you’ll probably also get some insider knowledge when it comes to the best places to visit!
6. Be patient with yourself:
Learning a new language is tough! But don’t give up – it’s worth it to learn a foreign language while travelling! It will open doors for you and make your travels hold even more valuable memories.
7. Keep a travel diary to remember all the things you’ve learnt on your trip:
You’ll be surprised by how much you’ve picked up once you return home. Not only that, but when people ask about where you went or what places you visited, you’ll have plenty of interesting stories, photos and keepsakes to share.
8. Use YouTube videos to learn the basics while travelling:
YouTube is a great place for language learners. Chances are, there are plenty of videos out there that will give you the gist of what you need to know, so if you’re in a café or at the airport, with some time on your hands, then fire up that phone or tablet and get watching!
9. Don’t be shy:
Getting words wrong is actually good practice when learning languages! Go ahead – try out your new phrase; it might not come out quite right but at least you’ll get better with practice. A bit like riding a bike (or falling off one!).
10. Use language apps:
If YouTube videos aren’t enough for you, or you simply don’t have enough time to dig out your laptop, then why not try an app? There are plenty of excellent language apps available that will help you learn on the go. If YouTube videos aren’t enough for you, or you simply don’t have enough time to dig out your laptop, then why not try an app? There are plenty of excellent language apps available that will help you learn on the go. For example, if you are learning Mandarin, you may also consider using some flashcard apps that will help you improve Chinese vocabulary fast and effectively.
Also Read: How to Adapt to University Life in the UK
11. Don’t think of it as work:
Think about all the cool places and experiences you’re going to have! Learning a new language can seem like hard work at times, but when you reminisce back to the sights you’ve seen and experiences you’ve had, languages won’t seem so daunting.
12. Minimise your use of English:
It’s a great idea to start slipping nearly learned keywords and phrases into conversations with locals. Not only does this help you remember them, but they’ll appreciate your efforts! If needed, write down your newfound phrases so that when in doubt, you have something to refer back to.
13. Listen, listen, listen:
This is quite possibly the most important thing. Listening will give your brain lots of context for when you’re ready to speak yourself. Try watching movies or listening to music that is in that particular language only. If there are subtitles, turn them off immediately – they’ll only distract you.
14. Familiarise yourself with slang:
Make sure to check phrases that you might not be able to understand yet, such as slang words or dialects, and familiarise yourself with them. Learning these will help you for more than just your trip! For example: ‘See ya later, alligator’ is a popular English saying, but it doesn’t translate well into many other languages, and won’t necessarily have the same meaning.
15. Immerse yourself as much as possible:
The more time you spend in a country, the more you’ll learn and pick up. However, this doesn’t necessarily mean that you have to travel for months on end! In fact, spending a couple of weeks in a place will probably be enough time for you to make some friends, practise your language skills and get a feel for how locals communicate with one another.
16. Drink lots of liquids and keep the brain hydrated:
It sounds silly, but sometimes we forget to drink water when we’re travelling. Not only is it easy to become dehydrated, but our brains work better when they have plenty of water to utilize.
When you’re drinking lots of water, your body will become better at absorbing nutrients from the food you eat. The more nutritious you are, the faster and more efficiently your brain can work!
17. Use the time difference to your advantage:
If you’re living in a country for an extended period of time, you can use the time difference between where you are and home to your advantage. Why not record yourself speaking on video while it’s still light outside? Then when night falls, play it back for feedback; you’ll be amazed at how much more fluent you sound!
18. Keep your mind active:
It’s important to keep yourself busy, even if you don’t have a lot planned for your day. Singing songs or learning poems are some great ways to improve on your pronunciation, as is making up stories with new vocabulary you’ve learnt along the way.
19. Write lists:
These can be great for helping you to learn new words and phrases, and even writing messages to friends and family. If writing in a language is too much of a challenge, why not try sketching pictures to accompany your list?
Learning a language while travelling is incredibly rewarding, and you’ll thank yourself for putting in the time and effort when you can comfortably speak to locals and navigate your way around efficiently.
The basics are always the same, but it’s the finer details that make them different. Learning not only vocabulary but also how to write, read and speak the language will make your experience much more authentic! And if you feel like you’ve mastered a new language, why not try learning another? Experiment and see what works for you.
Some languages are similar, making them easier to learn after one another. For example, Spanish, Italian and Portuguese is all Latin-based languages. They share the same alphabet (with a few characters replaced to accommodate phonetics), meaning that they use most of the same sounds. This is true for French, too!
A word of warning, though: they may be similar but they are not identical! For instance, in Spanish, there are two ‘l’s sounds, one hard (‘L’) and one soft (‘LL’). In French, there is only the ‘ll’ sound. This isn’t a huge barrier to learning them all, though – it just takes a bit more practice.
When travelling or going on holiday, remember not to overthink your learning process. It’s likely that you won’t pick up the language that well on your first time, even if you plan lots of activities to help you practice! Think about how long locals have lived in their country. If they’ve grown up there, chances are that the language is engrained so well in them that it seems completely natural. Try to ignore any negative thoughts you may have before your trip – for example, ‘I’m not good at languages, I’ll never get this.
Enjoy yourself and don’t take it too seriously. Keeping calm will help you to learn faster, as well as make the experience way more fun! And remember to drink lots of water… your brain will thank you for it later on.
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