Hands up if languages just aren’t your thing?
Does the memory of declaiming verbs, wrestling with grammar and agreeing tenses make you never want to open your mouth again?
Well, if the idea of trying to make yourself understood in a foreign language only conjures up hideous visions and turns you from girl-power to wall flower then this post is for you.
Learning a bit of the local languages can do a lot for you — include help to keep you safer. So here are some of our best tips on how to master new languages when you travel.
1. Think of yourself as a communicator
Don’t get too hung up on how good/bad at languages you think you are; you’ve succeeded if you get your question or your point across. If you’re talking to someone whose first language isn’t English, you don’t expect perfect grammar and you make allowances for funky pronunciation; people will do the same for you.
In short, it’s not just about the words you use. Facial expressions, pointing at things, drawing pictures, miming, interpretive dance if necessary … it all helps. And if it goes wrong, lost-in-translation stories are always funny – particularly if you resort to dancing.
2. Try and learn a few phrases before you go, and take a phrase book
If you’re heading into the unknown, it’s always comforting to have a few phrases prepared so you’re ready to say hola (or bonjour, nihao, konichiwa, ciao or whatever) to a new country.
It’s also a good idea to take a phrase book or a guidebook (like one of ours, hint hint) that has a few key phrases in there, that way you can point and (for all you visual learners) it means you can see what you hear.
And, in this wonderful technological age we live in, there are probably more apps to help you out than you can shake a stick at.
3. Study these language apps
There are several language learning apps that you could invest in before you travel. One of our favorites, which also happens to be free, is Duolingo.
Key phrases to know in any language include:
- Hello/Goodbye/Please/Thank you
- How much is that?
- Please can you say that again/more slowly?
- I’m looking for…(*insert place/thing*)
- One glass of wine, please.
- That was delicious!
- Hello handsome…
4. Travel with Google Translate
Need to be able to translate in real time? Google translate is your friend! I’ve used it while trying to navigate a bus station in China and I seriously don’t know how I would have done it without this handy tool. Download the app to your phone so that you can have it on the go before you travel.
5. Talk to people!
It seems pretty obvious, but you won’t get better unless you try. People can be shy of foreigners so it’s on you to make the effort. Try making a comment about liking apples as you buy fruit, ask what’s good when joining the locals for some street food, flirt with the barman, whatever.
At best you’ll make friends, learn new things, try new things and come away with a rewarding experience; at worst you’ll get a blank look and that’s not the end of the world.
People will appreciate you making the effort, even if you’re not very fluent.
6. Enroll in language immersion classes
There are plenty of places that offer short language courses when you’re traveling, from a couple of days to a month or so.
You’ll usually have the option to do a homestay, or at the very least, free time to head out to practice what you’ve learned in the classroom.
If you’re put off by the memory of school languages classes, remember that a second language looks great on your CV/resume and since you’re learning in a (more or less) immersive environment, it’s a useful and practical skill you’re gaining, not an end of year grade.