Bonjour, Hola, Ciao! 8 Tips for Learning a Language While Abroad
Travel teaches us so much.
We learn about ourselves, about the world and about the people we meet.
We learn to get from point A to point B successfully (mostly!) while seeing art, architecture, historic landmarks and natural wonders.
So much to learn, so little time.
By now, you’ve realized you can learn something else while traveling. That’s right: You can learn a language while you’re abroad!
Sounds exciting, doesn’t it?
Well, that’s because it is wildly exciting to surround yourself with a language and the culture of those who speak it.
An immersive experience is an excellent way to learn a language. In fact, there are those who say it’s the best way to learn any language.
Let’s check out how to power up your travel experience so language learning is maximized!
Benefits of Learning a Language Abroad
Immersion is the fast-track to language acquisition. It’s almost impossible to not learn some of a new language when you’re surrounded by that language and culture 24/7.
Listening to native speakers helps learners discern the cadence (I like to think of it as the “melody”) of a language.
Surrounded by a new language is a full-on experience of vocabulary acquisition. You learn the word or phrase for everything you see or do!
Being abroad makes it easy to pick up authentic idioms and local slang. And because that’s acquired early in your language learning journey, it’s pulled right into your skill set from day one.
Learning and speaking in the area where a language is spoken means that you’ll use what you’re learning—actually use it to speak and listen. This is a little bit different from some other methods of learning where learners don’t get that opportunity to practice in an authentic setting.
Additionally, while you’re picking up your new language, you may also learn other skills. Local crafting, dancing or cooking can be part of your language learning journey. And it’s a great way to practice the new language!
One of the greatest benefits of learning a language abroad is the possibility of forming relationships that span the globe.
Bonjour, Hola, Ciao! 8 Tips for Learning a Language While Abroad
1. Study Before Your Trip
If you’re able to do so, spend some time studying the target language before you leave on your adventure.
A little pre-travel learning can go a long way!
Pick up a book on the basics. Download a course online.
Or just do a quick vocabulary search and grab a few everyday words and phrases. Hint: It never hurts to know the word for “bathroom” in the target language!
An app like a solid travel phrasebook and translator is worth its weight in gold! The Travel Phrasebook app is a great choice because it covers 18 languages and touches on most topics necessary for basic communication.
2. Meet and Greet the Locals
Being in an unfamiliar place makes some people shy.
Don’t let that happen to you—get friendly with the locals. A smile goes a long way toward opening doors of communication. The people who live where you’re visiting are a huge asset in your language learning, so smile and say hello!
Chat with people you come in contact with.
Concerned you’ll make mistakes? Don’t worry about that—you probably will make a few, but everyone makes mistakes, so just go for it!
Think your vocabulary is too limited? Conversations begin with one word—“hello”—so use whatever you’ve got on your mental vocabulary list.
Are you unsure of a word? Ask. The locals you meet will appreciate your interest in their culture!
3. Be a Helper
Volunteer programs are super resources for learning a language while you’re abroad. Many teach the local language to volunteers while the team works.
It’s good for everyone involved: Teams of helpers work to benefit others and at the same time, the helpers gain some experience and language skills. Totally a win-win situation!
Go Overseas is a reliable company for finding volunteer opportunities. They send teams abroad to volunteer, study, teach and more—and they teach 19 languages to those who volunteer to help. Volunteers go as teams to various sites across the globe.
It’s a great way to make friends, do some good and learn with others!
4. Take Materials on Your Trip
There are great resources that you can download and take along on your adventure!
One of the best to-go resources is podcasts.
Innovative Language has a substantial assortment for language learners. These podcasts unique in that they offer cultural insights in addition to language learning. Honestly, I like learning about how people live, celebrate or observe holidays and even how they feel about popular movies.
I use Innovative Language to beef up my language skills all the time!
Download podcasts and use them to fill up free time spent in transit. On a train, plane or bus? Pop in the earbuds, listen to a podcast and learn on the go.
Another great material to download and take abroad? TED Talks. There are some excellent talks on language learning.
This one about reasons to learn a new language is one of my favorites.
And the website has added foreign subtitles in over 100 languages to English talks. Time to brush up on your reading skills and learn new vocab!
If you’re looking for a method to familiarize yourself with a language as well as deepen your knowledge of the culture, FluentU is the best way to go!
FluentU takes real-world videos—like music videos, movie trailers, news and inspiring talks—and turns them into personalized language learning lessons.
The immersive, entertaining content makes grammar and vocabulary much more memorable.
It’s an entertaining method to immerse yourself in a language the way native speakers really use it, while actively building your vocabulary.
Each video also comes with flashcards and exercises to help you remember the words even after you’ve finished watching.
Access the full video library for free with a FluentU trial!
You can access it on your web browser, or better yet, download the app at the iTunes store or Google Play store. Then you can learn with your phone at any time on your trip!
Which brings me to my next tip…
5. Use Your Phone to Your Advantage
Most of us don’t leave home without our phones—especially when we’re headed out on an adventure abroad!
But your phone is more than a way to call or text loved ones back home. It’s an excellent resource for learning a language.
Download a dictionary or a translator app like iTranslate Translator and use it to create your own flashcards. It’s available for iOS and Android.
Use it to compile a personalized vocabulary list. Look up new words and use the audio feature to get a grip on proper pronunciation.
But that’s just the beginning. There are tons of useful language apps out there!
6. Learn in Your Hotel Room
In the hotel room, turn on the television. Even if you aren’t that interested in watching the programs, listen to them.
A few minutes in the morning or before bedtime translates into a lot of foreign language exposure!
You’ll be surprised by how easy it is to pick up bits of everyday language from news shows and popular sitcoms.
You may even find some fun slang or authentic lingo from the local late-night shows!
7. Consider a Language-specific Trip
There are trips designed to help travelers learn new languages while they’re abroad! It’s a fun idea that countless learners take full advantage of.
Languages Abroad offers language trips to 90 destinations in 35 countries. There are 19 languages available to learners, and the program accepts either groups or individuals.
Apple Languages offers immersion programs in many countries and for 10 languages. They have some interesting specialty immersion courses that teach languages in conjunction with other things like skiing, cooking or dancing!
Language Vacation offers programs to teach 30 languages in various global destinations. They have summer camps and programs for year-round learning so there’s the option of either long-or short-term courses with them.
8. Pack Determination
Are you really determined to learn a foreign language abroad? Like, really, really determined?
Then go to a place where no one speaks English.
It will be the absolute maximum immersive experience.
When necessities like food, transportation and personal hygiene require communication, most learners pick up the essentials pretty quickly!
Immersive experiences are fun. It’s exciting to become a hands-on global citizen and to appreciate a new culture.
Language skills are a life changing takeaway from travel. And travel is the best way to learn!
Pull a few of these tips for learning a language abroad into your trip.