How to Learn a Foreign Language Faster Than You Thought Possible
Posted by September 07, 2016in Travelon
This article was submitted by Amanda Gokee of Goats on the Road, a website aimed at teaching others to turn travel into a lifestyle. Check them out to learn how to start a travel blog and how to make money on the road so you can travel indefinitely.
Possibly one of the most exciting and rewarding aspects of travel is getting to immerse yourself in a foreign language and culture. Not only can learning a new language be a practical tool for getting around (and being able to ask where the restrooms are), but it can open up your world. You’ll be able to have meaningful conversations with locals and connect with people you may have struggled to communicate with prior.
There's no better time to learn a new language than when you're traveling internationally. You will be surprised by how much locals will appreciate and respond to your attempts to speak to them in their native language, whether you're already nearly fluent or you're a complete beginner!
Before You Go
Planning for language immersion before you set off will help you acclimate properly once you arrive at your destination without feeling overwhelmed by an abundance of new information, sights, and people.
Invest in the Right Resources
While you're still at home, check out your local bookstore for language learning resources. At the very least, invest in a physical dictionary and phrase book, which can be very helpful. If you can't buy these books locally, consider ordering them online from a website like Amazon.
While you may be wondering why you need a physical copy in this digital age we live in, experience shows that cell phone and computer batteries have a way of running out of battery right when we need them most. Additionally, a hard copy will allow you to take your own notes, which can be invaluable when you're trying to learn new material. They are worth the extra weight.
Learn a Few Basic Phrases
If you're a complete beginner, try to learn at least a few phrases before you leave home. You can even bring that phrase book with you on the plane to study up just before you arrive. You'll want to learn how to greet someone, how to introduce yourself, and some basic questions, like "Where is the bathroom?" and "Can you speak slower?”
If you have dietary restrictions, you'll need to learn how to explain them to make sure you don't have any trouble once you arrive. Learn how to say "please" and "thank you." By mastering these few simple phrases, you will set yourself up for success once you arrive.
Download Mobile Language Apps
If you have a smart phone, it's a good idea to download language learning applications like Duolingo before you leave home. You can get the app all set up and it will even have you do an initial test to verify your level. Then you can get started with the grammar and vocabulary lessons.
For more language-learning tips and apps, check out "How to Get by in a Foreign Country When You Don't Speak the Language."
Once You've Arrived
Once you've arrived at your destination, you'll be in an immersive situation that will help you practice and learn the local language more effectively.
Connect with Locals
The most valuable resources will be the locals you will meet. Language exchange is guaranteed to happen in your day-to-day life, whether you're ordering at a restaurant or chatting with a new friend. These exchanges can be as informal or formal as you like – ideally you'll have a little bit of both. The informal exchanges are beneficial for learning slang and street language, while more formal exchanges can help you learn grammar.
Some people are more comfortable setting up language exchanges online. You can use websites like Couchsurfing.com as well as Facebook groups that are destination specific. Scan these websites and check to see if there are any language exchange groups already established that you can join. Otherwise, put out a message of your own and see who gets back to you!
Chances are you won't have any trouble finding people who are interested in improving their English, since it's such a strategic business language (not to mention an important language for those looking to travel). Of course, you can always pay to take an official language course, but don't underestimate the value of sitting down with a native speaker and learning this way as well.
Know what kind of learner you are and test out both approaches. You will be able to easily figure out what combination is the most helpful to you.
Buy a Book
Now that your language skills are surely improving, it's time to start reading more in the local language. If you feel confident, you can buy a full-fledged novel, but if you're just beginning, you'll find it easier to start with something from the children's section. You may feel silly at first, but be honest with yourself about your fluency level. You have to start somewhere!
Go to the Movies
The great thing about learning a new language is that, more often than not, it's a lot of fun. Cinema can be an excellent way to improve your skills.
Don't hesitate to go out to the theaters. Even if you don't understand everything, just by following the story with the images you'll be subconsciously picking up new vocabulary and learning a lot about the pronunciation of foreign words.
When you're at home or in a hotel, you can put on a film with subtitles. Watching a movie with subtitles exposes you to new words in their context, which can really help you integrate them into your own vocabulary. If you can help it, try not to watch with English subtitles, since you're more likely to just end up reading along and not listening as closely to the dialogue in the original version.
Learning a language is one of the beautiful opportunities that travel presents to you. Make a real effort to spend a significant amount of time everyday speaking this foreign language. You'll be impressed with your results, even in a short amount of time. By immersing yourself in a new language, you're going to kickstart the whole process.
Don't forget to be patient with yourself and take breaks. Immersion can be a tiring experience, so relax when you need to. Write down realistic goals for yourself. Maybe you plan to spend 50% of your time speaking the foreign language and allow yourself to speak your native language the other 50% of the time. Whatever happens, don't forget to enjoy the process.