Sitting in the departures lounge with a phrase book and no idea how to say anything?
It happens to the best of us!
English speakers are, of course, utterly spoiled when travelling. So many people speak our language around the world that it can be tempting not to bother with the memorizing.
However, the rewards from learning a handful of phrases can be huge, and we aren’t just talking about the practicalities.
Making the effort to speak the local language will enrich your experiences, allow you to discover the best hidden gems off the tourist trail and it demonstrates a respect for, and genuine interest in, the culture you are exploring. At the very least, if you muddle through and get a smile, then your efforts will be worth it!
Check out our list of tips for language-learning as you travel, and try not to be shy. The world awaits!
1- Pack Light
As tempting as it might be to pick up a big grammar book at the airport, that style of learning is unlikely to help you out in-country. Aside from the fact that you have far more exciting things to do than pore over a book, you also need to remember that you are literally surrounded with the greatest source of language-learning information: people!
The kinds of things you can expect to pick up in an hour on the go will be very different to the things you would typically learn in an hour on the books. However, both of these approaches to language suit different environments. When you’re already in country, too many books will just distract from people and the words around you. Get out there and learn!
2- Set Goals
This is an important point which came up in our previous post about language learning (https://markstraveljournal.me/category/language/). Goal setting is essential whether you are learning for 3 months or 3 hours over the course of a weekend away. Without goals, it is too easy to fall short of the final part of learning a language – attempting a few words!
As you are travelling, it is likely that your goal will relate to talking with a person. Recognizing signs is fantastic, but difficult to measure as a tangible goal. Examples of the kind of thing you could set as a daily challenge would be: ordering a meal, or a ticket for something; talking to the staff at your hotel or hostel; even just saying hello and goodbye in the target language.
3- Choose the Target Language
Listen in to tours, go to the cinema, listen to the radio. Make a concentrated effort to hear the language as much as possible.
Going shopping? Write your shopping list in the target language. In fact, write as much as possible in the target language.
This is so much easier when you’re in-country, so make the most of it!
4- Play at Word Association
Don’t be afraid to make up slightly bizarre mnemonics to remember things. These will often be unique to you, and they help. One example might be Hungarian for hello – Szia – which sounds like See Ya. So I think of the Beatles song ‘Hello, Goodbye’ and the lyrics – “you say goodbye and I say hello”. For anyone else, this might seem like a convoluted approach, but if it works for me, then it’s perfect!
5- Ask for Help
Depending on your personality, this can be easy or impossible. Years of language-learning have allowed me to worry less and less of what people are thinking when I ask for help, but I know this isn’t the same for everyone.
The more you get used to approaching strangers and asking for help with language, the easier it will get. However, try to make the most of speaking to people you meet. Ask the waiter in the restaurant how to pronounce the word for your favourite dish. If you’re feeling especially brave, ask if they would mind you recording the phrase on your phone. You’ve got new vocab and a permanent reminder, all at once!
Memorize how to say “how do I say this?” and don’t hold back. 9/10 people will be delighted to share their language with you, I promise!
6- Pack your Post-its
If you’re staying for a few days, then this tactic is slightly wacky but it works. Label things in your accommodation with post-its, and the word for them in the target language. Of course, maybe don’t try this if you are staying in someone’s home or they might get a little annoyed. Otherwise, you’ll pick up words for everyday items far quicker than if you weren’t seeing the word every time you used the object.
7- Use what You Have
If you have a smartphone, take photos of things you want to remember the word for and rename them with the word. Fill your notes with vocabulary, or record yourself reciting key phrases and listen to it as you sit on the bus.
8- Enjoy Yourself!
This style of language-learning is meant to be done in quick chunks. Don’t fret about verb conjugations, and not having a clue how to reuse words. If you can only remember key phrases but you get the chance to use them speaking to a real person, then that is a huge achievement.
We’ve talked about setting goals, but don’t feel bad for setting them low. Whether you’re travelling for business or pleasure, the whole point of learning the language is ultimately to enhance your enjoyment of your trip. You will not be taking exams, and no one you talk to is going to be testing you. Relax, and enjoy it!
If you have used these tips, or have some more to suggest, then please comment on social media and let us know!
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.