So you want to travel but you don’t want to be a tourist? The solution is simple – learn a new language! It’s easier said than done, but well worth the hard graft. All it takes is an open mind, determination, and a dash of confidence!
There are so many benefits to learning a language, the main one being that multilingualism broadens your personal and professional horizons. Want to move to Tokyo? No problem. Want to go on a spontaneous weekend away in Lille? Don’t sweat it! With a second language alone, you’ll probably be able to communicate with twice the number of people around the world. So, if you are or hope to be an avid traveller, learning a foreign language or two should be at the top of your list!
But fret not! Here are a few tips and tricks to ease you in to it and speed up the process.
Focus on Conversation
flickr / Daniel
If you are learning a language for travel, there really isn’t any need to get bogged down in textbooks about grammar or alphabet lists. For many people, grammar is a scary word and the rigidity of formal classes is totally unappealing, but the beauty of the internet and social media is that language learning is now more interactive and more accessible than ever! So, don’t worry about whether or not you can spell ‘bathroom’ in Mandarin – as long as you can pronounce it fairly well, it’ll get the job done.
Learn a Few Pronunciation Rules
flickr / AJ Cann
Lots of people get embarrassed about sounding foreign when they use another language, and you probably will at first but that’s really not a problem. However, if you are a little paranoid about it, the best thing to do is learn some general pronunciation rules. Most languages have these simple guidelines that work 99% of the time – e.g. in French, don’t pronounce the final consonant of a word. By remembering a few of these little mantras, you will be sounding like a native speaker in no time!
Practice Makes Perfect!
flickr / Tom Hart
The golden rule here: you MUST practice speaking out loud! If you never hear yourself speak, you will never know what you don’t know yet, which means you’ll be stuck in a rut wondering why. If you know a native speaker, wrangle them for a chat! If not, you can always talk to yourself (you know you do it) in the language and you’ll soon figure out which areas you find most difficult. Don’t fancy talking to a wall by your lonesome? Websites like www.ConversationExchange.com connect polyglots from all over the world, allowing them to exchange emails, and even skype with like-minded native speakers. So, if you want to learn Portuguese, just search for somebody from Portugal who wants to learn English, and hey presto! The bonus with this approach is you can end up with friends and pen pals across the globe!
flickr / Ginny
Want an excuse to watch films and listen to music all day? Learn a language! Immersing yourself in media is a great way to familiarise yourself with everyday language use and idioms. Watch the news and films, read an online magazine, listen to music. Even if you just have the radio on in the background, you’ll be surprised at how much you pick up!
Remember: You Won’t Be a Laughing Stock
flickr / Paul David
It can be difficult to muster up the confidence to start a conversation with native speakers when you’re in the country, but the key thing to remember is that nobody is going to ridicule you for trying. The reality is often the opposite – even if your attempt to say ‘thank you’ turns out shoddy, the effort will be noticed and appreciated. Many native speakers will even try to help and maybe teach you a little local slang… just be wary of where you use it though. It’s possible that when you think they’ve taught you ‘How are you?’, you’re actually saying ‘My monkey has measles.’, or something rather more crude…
Learning another language can be massively enjoyable and the payoff is definitely worth the hard work. So, if you always wanted to learn Russian, now’s the time. Make use of some of these tips and you’ll be on that plane to Moscow before you know it!
If you don’t have time to learn a totally new language, how about helping to teach English abroad? With a Teaching project, you can do just that, working with local communities all over the world, from Costa Rica to Fiji to India. It can be massively rewarding and you can even earn a TEFL qualification.
By Eman Bhatti
See more from our volunteers #Frontiervolunteer