10 language learning tips for travellers

3.3 billion people are expected to travel abroad this year, according to the International Air Transport Association (IATA).

Motivations for spending time, resources, and energy travelling abroad range from: studying or taking a crash course, accepting a new job to discovering new cultures, savouring unique delicacies, seeing breathtaking sceneries, and meeting new people.

However, there are issues we all encounter as travellers in a foreign country. Aside from cultural differences, a language barrier can turn a fairytale trip into a nightmare.

For example, a study published by The Pennsylvania State University found that negative emotional and cognitive responses develop due to language barriers. Not having the means to communicate with local people and engage with everyday services can really limit the experience and enjoyment of a new country.

What Charlemagne said must be true – “To have another language is to possess a second soul.” Language gives meaning to our life pursuits. So how can you get the most out of your overseas stay?

To have another language is to possess a second soul. - Charlemagne

By ‘travelling smart’ and learning the essentials of a new language before you set off, you’ll gain a much richer experience.

Here are 10 language learning tips for your next journey…

1. Review your travel goals

What activities are you going to do in the country? What places will you visit? Is there a local dialect you need to be aware of? By determining your plan, you’ll be able to identify the kind of expressions you need to focus on and eventually master.

2. Study a little (or more) about the country’s culture

Language and culture are inseparable. There are words or pronunciations that may be offensive in a particular country. Being aware of these will help avoid any misunderstanding or conflict during your stay.

3. Watch local TV shows and movies, and listen to local radio

Listening to the context within which words are used, and how people pronounce them will improve your understanding and confidence to communicate.

4. Ask for help

You can find language tutors online. Translators and interpreters are everywhere. There are also native speakers who may be willing to help you. All you have to do is to ask!

5. Carry a pocket dictionary

Bring a pocket or mobile dictionary with you. Look up new words as you hear or see them written, especially when there is no help around.

Language learning

6. Take advantage of available language learning technologies

Computer-based language learning tools are not only for learners but for teachers as well. Many of these programmes feature interactive platforms, vocabulary lessons, quizzes, and other activities that make language learning easier. Click here for a selection of software reviews and comparisons.

7. Non-verbal communication is also a valuable clue

Observe how locals move their hands or how their faces react during a conversation. Try to imitate these gestures to give your communication a more authentic feel.

8. Accept that you are going to make mistakes

Many language learners get frustrated when they make mistakes or when people make fun of them. Learning a new language is not an easy task. Stay focused on getting better and equipping yourself with the learning essentials.

9. Embrace being a student all over again

Take notes, practice your lines, and learn one phrase a day. Having a solid routine and preparation are key to becoming more confident and well versed in the new language.

10. Grab every opportunity for conversation

All of your efforts to learn a new language will go to waste unless you put it into practice! Immerse yourself in the local community, connect with new people, and you’ll be well on your way to fulfilling your travel goals.

Bon voyage!

Written by Laurianne Sumerset, who evaluates language learning software to help others choose the right programme for them. She has worked and travelled abroad.