If you’re traveling to a country where the spoken language is different than your own, it can be a great idea to practice a little bit beforehand. It will make everything easier, and it will also give you a much better experience.
Here are 10 important tips for learning a language before (and during) your trip abroad!
Identify the local language
The first step is the easiest, and it’s so obvious that it shouldn’t even be necessary to mention it here, but anyway – you need to find out what language the locals speak.
If you’re going to Italy, prepare yourself for some Italian.
If you’re going to Germany, you need to find sources that can help you learn German.
In most countries, it is quite straightforward to identify the local language. But in some cases, it can be tricky – particularly if the country is multilingual.
Let’s say you’re going to Spain, a country that has many different languages, depending on the region you visit. Spanish will obviously work everywhere in the country, but if you visit the Catalonia region, it’s not a bad idea to learn a bit of Catalan. If you’re going to the Basque Country, you can focus on the Basque language, and if you’re going to Galicia (particularly the northern part of the region), some Galician will do you well.
Many countries are like Spain – the languages can be different, depending on the region. People visiting Switzerland should look into the language that is spoken in the canton they are visiting – it could be either German, French or Italian. Then we have another case in Ukraine, where Russian would be more common in the eastern part of the country, but where you should definitely only stick to Ukrainian if you are in the eastern or central part.
Learn the top 100 most common words
Whichever language you’re learning, check out the top 100 most used words in daily speech. By learning these words first, your vocabulary has a solid foundation, and you will recognize a lot of the words when people speak to you.
After finding the top 100 most used words in general, try to find the top 25 most used nouns, verbs and adjectives. You can find these in any language by doing a simple Google search.
Find easy books before your trip
Go to your local library and see if they have any easy books in the language you are learning. If it is Spanish, for instance, go and ask the librarian for books in Spanish. They might have books for learners or normal children’s books. Both will work.
If you’re learning a more obscure language and you can’t find any material at the library or at the book store, try finding free material online. There’s always stuff to find online.
Get a dictionary
Buy a dictionary so you can look up words you don’t know. Bring it for your trip.
You’ll find good dictionaries online, such as Wiktionary which is free for everyone, but it’s great to have a physical dictionary since you might not always have internet when you’re on the road. A small pocket dictionary is a good, simple and affordable choice.
Listen to music in the language before going
Music is an amazing way to get familiar with any language. You get to hear the language in creative use – and because of catchy melodies, many words and even sentences will stick on you.
Every country has a music scene, so you can find great music in all languages. Find a few artists within a genre you like, listen to whole albums on Spotify, and find their most catchy songs. Keep listening to those. It’s a good idea to choose musicians who primarily focus on songs with lyrics rather than instrumentals. You need to find songs you like, but they also need to have lots of words – that is important to keep in mind.
If you don’t know any musicians in the country you are about to visit, start with a simple Google search. So if you’re planning to visit Spain, search for “best Spanish singers” and see what comes up. Let’s say some website recommends you to listen to Alejandro Sanz – then proceed to find him on Spotify, listen to some albums, and find the songs you like the best.
Check up movies and series
Like with music, you can learn many words, phrases and sentences from watching movies and series.
But you need to pay attention.
In the beginning, you can watch the movies (or the series) in its original language, but with English subtitles. After you’ve improved your skills in the language, you can watch it with native subtitles. And, ultimately – watch it without any subtitles and all. Write down notes about the movie/series you are watching, and remember the most commonly used words and phrases that you here. This is a great way to learn the everyday language; the way people actually speak.
Find a language learning partner
Many people around the world are interested in learning other languages. Sometimes because they also want to travel, sometimes to practice in order to get better marks in school, and sometimes because of pure interest. In any case, it is surprisingly easy to find a language partner. You have several options:
- Use Reddit to find your language partner online
- Use Interpals to find your language partner online
- Find a language exchange event through Meetup, show up in person and find a friend who is willing to learn your language, while you are learning his/hers
All of these solutions are free. All it takes is dedication and an open mind.
Try thinking in the language
This tip is simple: Try thinking in the language your learning.
Yes, it will be very limited at first, but you will remember and recollect words better, and if there’s a word you don’t know, your mind will find an alternate way to express it. It’s a good practice, and you can do it at any time, without any materials. While very hard, it is definitely worth the effort.
Interact with people on your trip
Always interact with people as much as you can while you travel. It makes the whole experience better.
Start out by using the local language and do your very best. Don’t ask immediately if they speak English. Try speaking in their language. If it doesn’t work, then you can ask if they speak English, but always test your skills first – and keep going. It will make you much better with time.
Keep learning when you return home
Many travelers learn a language while preparing for their trip, but after going home, they don’t continue. That’s a big mistake – always continue learning. It will prove useful if you ever go again, and it will stimulate your brain. Being competent in another language is a good skill to have. In fact, it might open up new opportunities in your professional life, as well as new friendships if you keep traveling and meeting people.