I confess — other than Latin, I was never very good about picking up foreign languages (and alas, speaking Latin won’t get you too far these days).
I used to joke that I could say the word for “beer” in 18 languages, especially since some of them were variations of the word “beer.” And even I couldn’t forget how to say cerveza. (I was also fluent in vino and café.)
I have been able to draw on my somewhat less-than-stellar performance as a French student in high school and college and, during months of travel in Spain, learned enough, among other necessities, to ask for the hombres room after drinking too much cerveza.
All this is to say that I wish I had absorbed more of the local languages while traveling, especially in my younger days, since so many people around the world now speak English that it’s easy to give in and just stick with my native tongue. I’ve also read, somewhat reassuringly, that adults have more difficulty than kids learning foreign languages because our brains are already crammed with so much other (no doubt important!) stuff.
But, as our guest writer points out, non-native English speakers do appreciate even fumbled attempts to communicate in their own languages. I know that from experience — with emphasis on the “fumbled.” And that kind of connection can genuinely enhance your overseas travels:
By Anchisa Choei-ngan
Learning a new foreign language can significantly help you grow personally and professionally. It allows you to deepen your knowledge of the language, traditions, and culture of other people.
And while traveling, it provides the ability to speak essential words and phrases with the locals — allowing for a more authentic travel experience.
Mastering some of the most in-demand foreign languages can also give you a competitive edge when looking for a job overseas. What better way to connect with your future colleagues and employers than with a language close to their hearts?
Can’t decide what language to learn next?
The answer to that lies in your interests, motivation, and passion. If you already have a plan for countries to visit in the upcoming year, then start focusing on the local language of your next travel destination.
On the flip side, you may choose to learn one of the widely spoken languages in multiple countries such as Spanish, Arabic, French, or Russian. Or take this What Language Should I Learn Quiz to identify which is the best one based on your personality.
How To Learn A Language While Traveling
Here are five recommended ways to learn meaningful words and expressions before hitting the road or during your trip.
Pick Your Travel Destinations Wisely
In order to get the most out of your tour, do a quick Google search and identify the mother tongue of the main country you would like to visit to see if it matches the language you are learning or would like to learn.
For instance, if learning Spanish, you may consider visiting several Latin American countries (keeping in mind that the language of Brazil is Portuguese). This is an excellent opportunity for you to train your ears for how the locals speak, and you’ll get plenty of opportunities o expose yourself to the language without any barriers.
You can also simply pick a country you want to visit and focus only on the local language of that destination. Remember, you do not just want to be “another tourist” in the country — your aim is to put yourself out there with the locals.
Join A Language Immersion Program
If you are genuinely passionate about gaining proficiency in a specific language, you might want to consider joining a language immersion program. By doing so, you will get to meet with like-minded individuals and support each other as you try to improve your language skills.
There are tons of programs like this from across the world, but if you are looking for something particularly worthwhile, then a homestay experience may be the ticket.
Homestays allow you to share a residence with a family open to teaching you their language and culture. If you are lucky, you will be welcomed by hospitable residents who will take you around to nearby attractions and introduce you to other people. Homestays can not only save you money, but help you practice and develop your confidence in speaking a language.
Work As A Language Teacher
Many countries in Asia and Latin America actively seek volunteer native English speakers to teach the language. As you are teaching them English, you can also learn the local language.
Depending on the type of program you sign up with, teaching English can be a good way to travel on a budget. Asian countries such as Japan and Taiwan may even provide free apartments if you agree to become an assistant language teacher for an entire year.
Go Where The Locals Go
In order to truly master a language, you need to put yourself in real-life situations — and go where the locals congregate.
This is a great way to pick up some of the local slang and gives you a chance to note the pronunciation and flow of real conversations in your target language. If you’re at a cafe or bar, for instance, reach out and strike up a conversation with the locals rather than sit silently. You may be surprised how impressed people will be when you try to speak their language.
Avoid Speaking Your Native Language
Once you’re in another country, try to forget about using your own language. While there are locals who might understand English, avoid using it as much as possible. Pressure yourself to use the words and expressions you have already learned. With enough practice, you’ll move significantly forward in learning your target language.
Don’t be afraid to make mistakes. Be like a child in that regard — one reason young children learn languages much more easily is that they aren’t afraid to look bad. The only way to learn and gain confidence is by practicing. And while practice may not make perfect, it will go a long way toward making your travel experience worthwhile and memorable.
Top image from Pexels
Anchisa is strongly passionate about learning new languages and expressing her knowledge to the world.