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May 2017

5 Tips for Learning a Language While Traveling

Making the most of your time in a foreign country

Summer is almost here, a time when many hard workers fill their travel bags and take off for adventures. With the great airfare deals available lately, foreign travel is more accessible than ever. Often, it is far too late to learn a new language proficiently before visiting a foreign country if the ticket was purchased just a few months prior. For those who like impromptu trips, there is even less time to become linguistically prepared.

We all know that being in a foreign country is the best way to learn a new language. Here are five tips for learning a new language while traveling in the respective country.

Familiarise yourself with the language and learn useful phrases

While fluency isn't possible in days leading up to your trip, taking the time to familiarise yourself with the language of your destination will instantly place you ahead of other visitors who do not bother to make the effort. At the very least, learn the alphabet of the language, the pronunciation, and a general sense of how the grammar works. Identify important pronouns like “me” and “you”. Learn important words like “hello”, “please”, “thank you”, and, perhaps most importantly, “toilet”. Many guides include useful phrases for travelers. Try your best to memorise these. They may prove to be the most helpful phrases for your trip.

Download a dictionary app or carry a dictionary with you

Nearly all smartphones have the capability of hosting dictionary apps. For those exploring a new language in a foreign country, such apps are invaluable for making sense of signs and menus. Because apps are easy and quick to use, it's easy to research required vocabulary before an interaction. If you don't have a smartphone, you could carry a pocket dictionary. While you would not have to worry about battery expenditure or data usage (assuming you didn't download the entire dictionary onto your phone), you would be burdened by the weight. Either way, be inquisitive and look up words you don't know, whether in the restaurant, on the train, or in the store.

Don't be afraid to try and don't get discouraged

Make an effort to speak with others in the target language with the best of your ability. Of course, you wouldn't want to try and start a conversation about politics if you're speaking at a fifth-grade level. Focus on necessity, asking when appropriate while keeping in mind that being shy will get you nowhere. If you make a mistake, embrace the error and keep on trying. Don't let setbacks discourage you from speaking and enjoying the language. Always remember that others are often impressed that you've taken the time to learn their language.

Start simply and speak slowly

Begin with topics that are comfortable and simple, such as food. Ordering in a restaurant is a good way to start an easy conversation. Often excitement can cause one to speak too quickly and stumble on words. When we’re nervous, we often lose track of grammatical rules and fumble our words. Remember to focus and to speak slowly, even if it makes you feel like you’re speaking like a child. The point is to be understood, not to sound like a radio commentator.

Find friendly locals to chat with

If you happen to find a nice restaurant, cafe, or pub, you might encounter friendly locals who would be open to chat with you. It's a great way to learn more about a country’s culture and people. Discussing food and drink is always a good method, as a simple “what is this?” proves both useful and is a legitimate question that opens up conversation. Be kind and curious, and doors will open up for you.

Be a good listener and learn to mimic

Learning to speak a language requires a lot of listening. Examine the tonality of the language and how people move. Mimic their sounds, actions, and gestures as you speak. This is a great way to sound more like a local. Familiarising yourself with the musicality of the language can also aid listening comprehension further down the road.

What are your tips for learning the language of a country while visiting? Let us know on Facebook and be sure to “like” TELC English for more articles on language learning tips!

Picture: (c) Fotolia, photoillustrator.eu

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