You know that feeling. You’ve booked your trip, you’re excited to go, you’re reading up on the destination – and the more you read, the more you realise that you won’t be able to talk to anyone because you don’t speak the local language.
It does take years to be fluent in a foreign language but the good news is that it barely takes any time to learn the basics. I started learning Portuguese a week before I left to Brazil and I could at least say hello, thank you and tell people I didn’t speak Portuguese. Locals reacted well to those few words and they always smiled when they realised I was trying to speak their language.
If you have more than a week, you could take things even further. Learning a new language isn’t hard so I decided to put together a quick guide to help you make the most of your holidays.
1. Look for language classes
If you have more than a month, it might be worth signing up for a language class. I took Spanish and Chinese classes at a nearby language school and it has helped me immensely. Plus, I met new people and interacting with others who had the same goal as me motivated me to push myself extra hard.
If you can’t find classes in the language you want to learn, they take place while you’re at work, they’re too expensive or you simply don’t have enough time left, don’t despair. There’s another way to learn languages quickly.
2. Sign up for Duolingo
Duolingo is the best free way to learn a foreign language that I’ve ever heard of. You can use it on your computer or you can download the app.
Duolingo offers a multitude of languages to choose from and, best of all, it’s free. You’ll start with basic words and phrases and you’ll slowly advance to more complex words and sentences.
Even if you take language classes locally, I advise signing up for Duolingo at the same time. It’s a good tool for daily practise which takes me to the next part.
3. Daily Practise
As much fun as it would be, you can’t expect to learn a language in your sleep. Daily practise is the key.
For those of you with little time, don’t worry. I don’t spend much time practising daily. On most days, I take five minutes for Spanish words and ten minutes for Chinese words. Over the weeks and months, I’ve learned enough to have a basic conversation in Spanish and to order meals and drinks in a Chinese restaurant.
And even though I only had a week, ten minutes a day were enough for some very basic Portuguese.
4. Use Your Language from the Beginning
I know what you think. You only know a handful of words so you’ll feel foolish talking your new language.
But you shouldn’t. Locals love foreigners who make an effort, even if it’s just a few words and if the pronounciation is off.
Before you leave on your trip, you can easily practise while you’re still at home. Each time you take out a knife, say the foreign word for it out loud. Spread post its all over your flat to help you remember words you have trouble with. Before you know it, you’ll be looking forward to putting those words to use.
This is probably the most important advise. Learn that you don’t have to be perfect. Learning a foreign language for a trip is mostly about having fun and respecting the locals by showing that you’ve made an effort. My mother language is German and whenever I meet a foreigner and they talk to me in German, even if it’s just please and thank you, it makes me smile.
I don’t care about mistakes they make. You’ll realise that nobody does (and if they do, do you really want to be their friend?).