How to Learn a Language while Travelling the World
Travelling is one of the international joys of the world. There are a variety of reasons to explore the world and not all of them are about relaxing and having fun. In fact, you could learn a new language while travelling around the world.
In this guide, we’ll explore the benefits of learning a language while travelling and share two different language learning routes with you: enrolling in a course and learning on your own. Finally, we’ll provide you three keys to mastering a language while travelling.
THE BENEFITS OF LEARNING A LANGUAGE WHILE TRAVELLING
Before we examine the advantages of learning a language while travelling, it’s a good idea to understand the benefits of learning a language. There are multitudes of reasons for learning to speak in a different language to your mother tongue.
The most impressive benefits of learning a new language include:
- It can improve your cognitive skills.
- It can boost your career prospects.
- It will make it easier to get integrated into a foreign culture.
- It will make you more flexible to move all over the globe.
Furthermore, Kaplan’s fun infographic shows 270 British dating agencies have found the knowledge of a foreign language making people more attractive. In terms of money, the study also found that multilingual employees could experience a 20% increase in their salary in certain jobs.
Watch the below YouTube video for more information on benefits to learning a new language:
While the above makes learning a new language highly advantageous, there can be a few drawbacks to language learning as well. Perhaps the most obvious one is how learning a new language can take a lot of time and it requires plenty of motivation. This is especially true for mastering a language properly.
Furthermore, keeping up the motivation can sometimes be difficult if progress is slow, but this is sometimes due to the learning methods we choose to use.
In fact, many language students make the two crucial mistakes of learning solo, without no outside help or support, and learning too slowly. It can often seem like taking it slow is the best approach, but it can actually stall your progress if you keep going over the same things.
Learning a language while travelling can therefore be a great way to solve those two problems and ensure you only enjoy from the benefits mentioned above.
The advantages to learning a language while travelling include:
- You can’t escape the language or the need to learn it, as you are completely immersed in it.
- You can instantly see and enjoy the benefits of learning more, since you are able to communicate better with the people around you. This is a fantastic motivation booster.
- You learn the cultural context of the language and the everyday use of it instead of a textbook version.
- The more you learn about the language and its use, the more you are able to immerse yourself in the culture. This will open your eyes to the culture and the customs and you’ll expand your understanding of different people and cultures.
- You can meet new people, with some of them being fellow travelers and students trying to learn the language, and this is a great way to learn together.
ENROLLING ON A COURSE VS. STUDYING BY YOURSELF – WHICH ONE IS FOR YOU?
A new language can typically be acquired through two different routes when travelling the world: you can either enroll on a course in the destination country or you can study on your own while you are in the destination country.
Let’s examine what options both of these routes offer, so you can see which one would suit your plans better.
Enrolling on a course
When it comes to language courses abroad, you have plenty of different options available. When considering enrolling on a course, you should answer the following questions:
- Have I studied the language before or am I starting from no-knowledge?
- How long do I want to spend in the country?
- Am I looking to stay in a single location or move around?
- What else am I going to do while there? Will I simply study the language or also do other things such as work or study?
The easiest option is often to find a language course, which lasts for a specific amount of time and find a course for advanced students or beginners. A number of worldwide organizations offer these sorts of language courses. For example, you should check out organizations such as EF, STA Travel and Sprachdirekt.
In addition, you can find smaller courses in your destination country and even the city. Simply go to Google and search for “[Your chosen language] language courses in [Your chosen country or city]”.
The above option can work well if you are interested in experiencing different parts of the country, as you could always spend a month or two in one destination and swap schools later as you move along.
On the other hand, you could also consider enrolling on a university language program. If you are already studying at a university, check with your language and exchange program department what options might be available. Exchange programs are a great way to learn a language and experience a new culture. You should also check out the site StudyAbroad.com for more information.
Furthermore, university language courses are not only for students. Many larger universities and institutions run summer language courses for adult learners and you can join these even if you’re not a student. It’s a good idea to check for universities and their options by searching for institutions online.
Studying on your own
You might be more interested in studying on your own while travelling the world and it’s not impossible to learn a language like this. Studying on your own gives you a bit more freedom in terms of how you spend your time and it makes travelling around the country easier.
While there’s no exact pattern for learning on your own while travelling, there are certain routes you could keep in mind. These can make the process a bit easier and guide you to learn the language quicker.
First, you could consider getting a job or becoming an au pair in your chosen country and use it as a stepping-stone to learning a language.
Furthermore, you can try volunteering. There are plenty of organizations, such as BUNAC, which provide fantastic volunteering opportunities around the world and these can truly help you immerse yourself in a new language.
Second, even if you are just leisure travelling, add language learning books, podcasts and other such materials to your study arsenal. It can help deepen your understanding and ensure you don’t overlook things such as grammar. The free podcasts in iTunes have available shows in languages ranging from French to Filipino. You should also try out apps such as Duolingo, which can get you started on the airplane!
Finally, you should consider attending different meet-ups and conversation exchange meetings. These are not only great for enhancing your language skills, but also help you make new friends in the country. You can even help someone to learn your language, while they teach you theirs. Check out sites like MeetUp.com and ConversationExchange.com.
Scott and Vat explain one simple method to learn any language in this TED talk.
3 ESSENTIAL KEYS TO MASTERING A LANGUAGE WHILE TRAVELLING
Whichever route you take, there are a few things you need to keep in mind. It’s quite easy to forget about the actual purpose of your travels (=learning a new language) and simply end up having fun abroad. Even if you keep studying, you need to focus on a few things to truly master the language and not simply learn a few phrases.
The following three points are essential for taking your language learning to the next level.
#1: Avoid your own language
It is crucial to forget about your own native language while travelling and fully immerse yourself with the language of the country. This will speed up your language learning quicker than you know it.
Avoiding using your own language will be more difficult if your native language is English, as it is the lingua franca. Nonetheless, whether your mother tongue is English or Swedish, you should avoid using it as much as possible. Only converse in the language you are learning and try to swap your thinking for that.
This includes even the smallest of things like using your phone or hanging out in social media. Change the settings for the language you are learning to guarantee you see as little of your native tongue as possible.
It’s common for people to seek the company of their compatriots, even when travelling. It’s a common phenomenon, which can be hard to avoid. But you should try to distance yourself from hanging out with people who speak your language and find friends who don’t.
If you’re travelling with a friend, then try to ensure you don’t spend the whole time discussing in your mother tongue. For example, have a rule that you can also talk in your native tongue for two hours a day and use the language you are studying during the other time.
Don’t hang out in restaurants, cinemas or other venues, which use either English or your mother tongue as their language. Instead, try to find the local venues and use the country’s official language when having fun as well.
Avoiding either your mother tongue or English in particular means that you might want to stay away from the big cities and other very touristy places. For example, learning Spanish might be easier in a smaller town of Huesca rather than Madrid.
Some more tips on learning a new language.
#2: Start speaking immediately
Adults tend to have one particularly bad habit that hinders language learning: the inhibition of letting go. While children aren’t afraid of trying things they have no clue about or conversing in languages they don’t speak, adults find it hard to start talking in a language they don’t feel comfortable speaking.
But in order to improve, you’re going to have to start talking. Whether you are familiar with the basics or you struggle to speak at all, you should use the language as often as possible. Don’t try to avoid situations where you could use to language, but instead, actively seek them.
For example, you might know where the local bank is, but stop someone every once in a while and ask for directions. This will give you confidence to speak and you’ll get to practice those important skills. In the shops, ask for help and advice, even if you could manage without it. Throwing yourself in conversations might seem strange, but don’t try to avoid it – let go of those inhibitions.
When you do start talking more, mimicking how the natives talk can be a good idea. Furthermore, if you are having a conversation with someone and you didn’t understand something or you are unaware of a specific pronunciation, ask questions.
Most people are impressed with anyone who is trying to learn their language and are therefore more than happy to help you on your journey. But remember, when people do correct you or point out mistakes, you shouldn’t take it personally. This is only constructive critique and you should simply learn from it.
Soon enough, you’ll start noticing a huge difference in your ability to speak. Regularly using a language makes you feel so much more confident in it and it helps you to memorize and learn words and grammar, without feeling like studying.
Finally, as you start using the language on your travels, keep it simple. Don’t try to start talking complicated sentences or use extremely fancy words. Again, take notice from children and speak like one, so to speak.
Simple and straightforward language won’t perhaps sound as sophisticated, but it’ll get you started. It’s much easier to understand, especially when you are likely to still make small mistakes and pronounce things differently to natives.
At first, the key is to gain the confidence to talk and manage to hold a conversation long enough. After your vocabulary develops and you tune into the language of the locals, you’ll start almost automatically to create sentences that are more complex.
In addition to using simple language, you shouldn’t start copying the local slang too much. Different regions typically have their own variations and slang words in every language. But the aim for you is to get a grasp of the language as a whole, not a specific regional dialect.
#3: Listen actively
The final important thing to focus on is listening actively. Be mindful of this, as it’s all too easy to think you are listening when you aren’t paying attention to the minor details. When you are listening, you should focus on the pronunciation and the flow of the sentences. For example, in languages such as Spanish, the emphasis is placed on different parts of the word and the sentence depending on the context.
Paying attention to these intricacies will help your own speaking and improve your understanding. As mentioned above, you want to start mimicking the speakers and the best way to do it is by listening closely to the flow of the language.
When you are hanging around town and exploring the new country, try to listen to people talking in different situations. Pay attention to the way the language is used and the tone the speaker is using in these various situations. There are plenty of interesting conversations happening in the markets, at the parks and in the busses. Just remember to avoid being too nosy or invading people’s private space too much.
Outside of hanging around and listening to people’s conversations, there are plenty of other ways to improve your listening skills. Learning a language while travelling is especially good because it’s easy to immerse yourself in the language.
One of the simplest ways to listen more is by turning on the radio. Don’t get stuck in the channels that mainly play music (especially if it’s in English most of the times), but try to find radio channels with plenty of talking. If you’re into sports, then sports related radio stations could be the perfect way to spend time listening to the language. News channels are naturally another good option.
In addition, watching the TV is definitely recommended – not to mention how easy it is to be hooked on local soap operas! You should also consider turning on the chosen language’s subtitles, if they are available. The same applies for movies. When you are watching movies, you can occasionally turn on the English subtitles, as it can help you learn idioms. Just ensure you don’t simply read the English subtitles and forget to listen to the language.
Finally, a super funny show on learning English with comedy series. A must watch. 🙂
Learning a language while travelling the world is an amazing way to gain new experiences and quickly turn your language skills up a notch. The biggest benefit about practicing language while in a country where it’s the native language is the immersion you experience. Everywhere you go you are greeted with an opportunity to listen and speak in your chosen language.
It is these opportunities that you must cherish and avoid falling back to using English or your own native tongue. Whether you learn with the help of a course or on your own, ensure you let go of your inhibitions and just explore the country and its language to the fullest!
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