Every time you travel, you have a wonderful opportunity to immerse yourself in a country’s history and culture. One of the best ways to do this is to try to learn and speak the language while you’re there. Of course, you’re not going to be very fluent at it, but the effort you put into it and the interaction you get with the locals can take your trip to another level. You’re not just visiting the country, you’re embracing this experience and trying to take a new perspective. It’s very enriching, and worth the effort. Here are some tips on how to learn a language during a trip. Go ahead, try it—and have fun.
1. Learn words and phrases about food.
A true traveler will avoid the overpriced tourist restaurants and look for authentic local cuisine. So, in preparation for that, learn at least the words and phrases that you’re likely to use while dining out. For example, you can learn the local term for ‘delicious’ or ‘water’ or ‘check please.’ It’s also useful to write down the equivalents for local delicacies.
2. Be a smart (and fluent) shopper.
You can get a lot of great deals by staying away from souvenir shops and buying local specialties at bazaars, where you can bargain for a discount. You may even score a better price if you speak to the local vendors in their language. Learn how to say ‘How much?’ ‘It’s too expensive!’ or ‘What’s your best price?’ Other words that can charm your way to a good bargain? ‘That’s beautiful!’ and the magic words ‘Please’ and ‘Thank you.’
3. Anticipate your needs.
It doesn’t matter if you’re visiting Timbuktu or Tokyo, you’ll need to be able to say, ‘Where’s the bathroom?’ or ‘How do I get to…’ Of course, you’ll also need to be able to say ‘Hi’ ‘Good morning/afternoon/evening’ and the ever-useful ‘Do you use accept credit cards?’
4. Customize your phrase books.
Most tourist guides will have a section on local phrases. These are useful, but see these only as a starting point. It’s much better to make your own phrase book. The process of researching on vocabulary and studying the language structure will help you retain the information. Plus, you can customize your list to reflect your particular travel itinerary. For example, if you’re going to Europe and eager to sample the local wines and delicacies, you would probably build your food vocabulary. But, if you’re going to Bangkok primarily to avail of the cheap bazaars, you’d probably want to find the local terms for shoes, clothes and accessories.
5. Chat with the locals.
Grab every chance to start a conversation with the locals. Practice your language skills—and don’t worry if you sound funny, they’ll appreciate your effort! Ask them to teach you a few words, too, or better yet, learn a joke or a colorful phrase. Years from now those conversations will be some of your most treasured vacation memories, and your phrasebook will be filled with things you’d never find from a tourist guide.
You’ll also realize that many locals will want to practice their English. You may find this a little annoying, but pack your sense of humor (and spirit of adventure) and reciprocate. Agree to teach them English phrases, if they teach you local equivalents too. You’ll make new friends and actually be an effective ambassador for your country. ‘Hey, those foreigners are actually really nice,’ they’ll say.
6. Watch a local film.
Take advantage of the Internet and search and download a movie made in the country you’re visiting. You’ll see the language in use and pick up the appropriate intonations and cadence.
Watching local films also gives you a window into a country’s culture and psyche in a way that museums can’t. Just try to avoid ‘Hollywood-ized’ films—look for documentaries, or search for any art films that were submitted to international film festivals. You may also want to research on the country’s noted writers or directors, and read critiques or analyses of that film, just to give you a cultural or historical context.
7. Get a copy of the local newspaper.
You’ll find these in your hotel, coffee shops, and of course the news stands. But you can also find an online version, too, if you want to get a head-start and read up before you even leave for your trip.
The newspaper will also show the language, plus give you an idea of the current events and national issues of the country you’re visiting. Not only does this help you truly immerse yourself in their world, you have a way to connect to the locals and a topic for conversation. Ask their opinions about the headlines, or how the news is affecting them on a day-to-day level.