7 Tips For Learning Languages On Vacation

Don’t take a vacation from learning! Here are some tips to learn while traveling, without taking away from the fun of your trip.
Woman in the Caribbean looking at her phone with tropical drinks

While there’s plenty written about learning a language before you go on vacation, there’s one aspect that’s often overlooked: one of the best times for learning is while you’re actually on vacation. If you treat learning like a chore, this probably doesn’t sound very appealing, but it doesn’t have to disrupt your trip! We have some ideas for making learning languages on vacation both fun and rewarding.

1. Learn The Basics Ahead Of Time

On your first day in Spain, you won’t want to be tripping over hola. Getting at least the basics of the language down before you go will be a great help to you. Immersion is a fantastic way to learn a language, but that doesn’t mean jumping into the deep end immediately is necessarily the best option. With some vocab to get you started, you’ll feel much more prepared to take on the language.

2. Don’t Break Out The Translation Apps Too Quickly

We live in a phenomenal age for technology, where you can translate between dozens of languages in mere seconds by taking out your phone. You shouldn’t always jump to doing this, however, and not just because these translations can be less than accurate. If you always rely on your phone to translate, it’s likely you won’t retain as much information.

In an ideal world, you’ll be able to read every sign and understand every word you hear. But if that fails (or more likely when that fails), you can try to reason out the meaning or look it up in an actual dictionary. Yes, this is more time consuming than just going on your phone — and we’re not saying you can’t look things up once in a while — but slowing down and trying to really understand words will serve you better in the long run. Consider packing a pocket-sized language dictionary to bring with you on your trip, as you never know when you’ll need one.

3. Avoid The Accommodations To English Speakers

Speaking English is a huge advantage in 2019. Many countries — especially major cities — make sure to create resources available to English speakers. After all, English is essentially a lingua franca for the world. Restaurants have English-language menus, museums have English-language placards and information kiosks have English-language maps. When you can, however, you should try to avoid these and go with the local language resources. At the very least, try to use the English versions as a last resort. It can be challenging, but don’t let that scare you off!

4. Go On Tours In Your Learning Language

Even if you don’t like doing touristy things, a walking tour is a great way to be introduced to a city. You can get a basic layout of the place, some history and, if you want to, some language practice! Depending on what’s available, you might even find ones that are geared toward language learners, using vocab and grammar that’s easier for beginners to understand.

5. Talk To People

This one is probably the most obvious method for learning languages on vacation, but it’s worth mentioning. There’s no better way to learn how to speak a language conversationally than to have a native speaker talk to you and provide some helpful feedback. If you have some social anxiety, this can be tough, but it can be very rewarding. And trust us, there are people out there who are more than willing to have a friendly conversation.

6. Bring Along Fellow Learners (Or Even Non-Learners)

It’s no fun learning languages on vacation alone, so take people with you! If they’re learning the same language as you, you can try to stay in that language as much as possible (and since you’ll all be struggling to learn, you will be more comfortable making mistakes). You can also bring them along to do all of the other things on this list.

Even if the people you’re traveling with don’t know the local language at all, you can still take advantage of the situation. Becoming the designated language interpreter for your friends or family could be the motivation you need to buckle down and learn the language. 

7. Look Into Language Travel

While this phenomenon hasn’t really caught on in the United States yet, language travel is a growing trend in the wider world. There are lots of different options, but the general idea is that language classes form a part of your vacation. Language travel is for people who want to prioritize learning languages on vacation.

That’s not to say language travel makes it impossible to enjoy everything else a country has to offer, though! In fact, immersing yourself in the language can make the other aspects of tourism all the more rewarding. And with options to stay with native speakers and take in the sights while learning the language, this is an all-around great experience.

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