How to Learn Language Basics Before Your Holiday

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Ever arrived in a foreign country for work or play, and found that you wished you could have at least introduced yourself in the native tongue? You’re not alone!

Learning a language can be intimidating, but it’s worth it. We aren’t talking fluency, we’re just seeking to make a little effort to chat to locals and add a whole new wonderful dimension to your trip. People tend to be happy to hear someone attempting to speak their language – no matter how many mistakes you make. If you’re trying, then you will be rewarded with cool experiences and conversations. Plus, you’ll be able to ask where the toilet is without having to mime awkwardly. Everyone wins!

1- Set Reasonable Goals

Put down the grammar textbook, because the aim here is to make learning little but often and fun. Whether you have three months or three days until the flight, you can still learn enough if you are consistent. 2 hours a day might sound great, but if it doesn’t fit in your schedule then don’t push it – you’ll feel demotivated a lot faster.

As well as time goals, think about what you would reasonably like to achieve. If you only have a week, then keep it basic. Aspire to introduce yourself, to order food and to buy tickets and transport. If you have a few months, then maybe you could work towards a ten minute conversation in the target language.

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2- Select Relevant Vocab

Phrasebooks are great, but don’t waste time learning things you aren’t going to use. Make your own vocab list based on your interests and needs and learn those words, not necessarily the ones that the phrase book assumes you might need.

Imagine a conversation where you are introducing yourself. Learn the words for your nationality, your travel plans, your interests. If you don’t like a certain food, learn how to say so. If you can talk about your family dog til the cows come home, then you’d better make sure that ‘cute’ and ‘best friend’ are in your vocab list! You get the idea.

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3- Be Practical About What You Need to Learn

If you are looking for a quick fix, then ditch grammar in favour of learning phrases and sentences. Often, sentences like “where is the … “ can be reused with other nouns and will still make sense. If possible, ask someone to check.

If your target language uses a different alphabet, then you may also decide to devote your time to learning to speak rather than read. Most of the tips in this article are more geared towards being able to talk on your holiday, but factor in extra time for alphabet if that’s part of your goals.

4- Make it Fun

As well as using a variety of different resources (see next tip), taking the time to come up with clever ways of learning has been proven to really boost your ability to recall phrases in a foreign language. As a french speaker, I remember learning l’orge (barley) when I worked as a tour guide for a whisky distillery. I would visualize Shrek, the ogre, in a field of barley in order to remember the word as it sounded so different to the English. And it worked! Come up with mnemonics and your learning will stick.

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5- Use Different Resources

Phrasebook: Particularly useful in-country, but try and pick one up before you go as they will often have good suggestions for generic phrases to learn such as directions and ordering food.

Dictionary: Whether you prefer an old school paper dictionary or would rather just download one on your phone, this can be a great way to pick up words. Try setting a reminder once or twice a day to pause what you’re doing and look up the word for whatever you are doing, or for an object in the same room as you.

Flashcards: Once again, this can be paper or digital format. Take public transport to work? Flashcards. Waiting for dinner to cook? Flashcards. About to go to bed? Flashcards. The words will start to stick before you know it.

Radio: Online, you should be able to find radio channels from all over the world. Listening to the radio can be a great way to immerse yourself and get used to the way a language flows. Plus, you can listen pretty much whenever you have internet access. It can be a good way to keep your brain thinking about the target whilst still doing other things.

Youtube: There are lots of great youtubers out there who either film in your target language, or who blog about learning their language. Youtubers are great because they will often also give you cultural tips as well.

Movies: Watch Netflix with subtitles and add a few foreign language movies to your watch-list. You can learn and relax at the same time!

Apps: I’ve used Duolingo and Memrise to great effect, the former to brush up on some German before a trip to Berlin and the latter to tackle the Arabic alphabet to give myself more excuses to visit Morocco.

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6- Talk to Natives before you Go

This may seem impossible depending on where you live and the language you are learning, but it can be surprisingly straightforward to get experience of speaking and it will make a huge difference to your learning.

Have a look online for local language meetups first of all. No luck? Then the internet can help you out again. Sites such as iTalki allow you to connect with hundreds of teachers who have really reasonable prices for a skype lesson, or a language exchange if you can find someone with the complementary languages to your needs.

Now that the practicalities are sorted, you might feel that it’s going to be impossible to talk to somebody for half an hour. Perhaps it is, and that is precisely why it’s so important to get the first chat attempt out the way whilst you have internet access to hand and all of your vocab in front of you! Make good use of this time by noting down the gaps in your vocab as and when they arise, and just one or two short sessions will really boost your confidence ahead of talking the language in person.

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7- Once You Arrive

The most important thing is just to have a great time! Do not be scared in the slightest of making mistakes. It happens to us all and you are highly unlikely to really offend someone as they will know you are trying your best. I once chatted away about how lots of ready meals contained condoms. I was trying to say preservatives (conservateur in French) by saying preservatifs. It means condom in French. I figured out that mistake pretty quickly, and I’m still on good terms with the lovely French friend who corrected me. No harm done.

What do you think of these tips? Will you use any of them to learn some language basics before your next trip? Have you ever used any of them to great success? Let us know in the comments!

 

Bio: Global Language Services (http://www.globallanguageservices.co.uk/) is a Scotland-based translation and interpreting company committed to providing speedy, efficient and accurate service no matter what. Please get in touch or check out our website for more details.

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