Learning a language on the ground is often referred to as the immersion method because you are living, feeling, and breathing the new language. The immersion method is useful. But, just because you are travelling does not mean you are immersed enough to pack fluency in your suitcase.
Learning a new language is all about preparation, commitment and humility. Here is how to use all three of those things while you travel to bring back an incredibly valuable souvenir: a new language.
1. Get Started Online
Immersion into another culture is a great way to learn. But when it comes to language, it is essential to know what you are talking about first.
Use books or free language resources online to learn the basics of the language of the country you are travelling to before you go. Get familiar with basic words, grammar rules, and the basic ways to structure a coherent sentence.
Not only will you be armed with essential phrases to get you through your first few weeks, but you will also have a head start on fluency by having some familiarity before you arrive.
2. Speak Like the Locals
One of the most important rules to keep in mind when learning a language at home or in a class is that your textbook or course materials are unlikely to reflect how people use that language in everyday life. If you picked up an English language course book, you would probably wonder who speaks that way.
Using these resources is a great way to get started in learning a language. But the benefit of travelling is learning how people use their language in their real, everyday lives.
3. Head Somewhere Where Few People Speak English
Heading somewhere off-the-beaten-tourist-track is a good way to force yourself to practice regularly. You are less likely to encounter fluent English speakers in the jungles of Colombia than you are in Cartagena des Indes. In areas devoid of handy English-versions, you are more likely to develop your language skills because you need them to do everything. You are also not tempted to cheat by looking at translated documents.
Bonus: You are less likely to have Wi-Fi or complete mobile coverage in rural areas. This means you will have to figure out language quandaries for yourself without the use of Google Translate.
4. Live with Locals
It is easy to get caught up in living with fellow North Americans or fellow travellers and reverting back to English all day every day. This does not help improve how much language you absorb, nor does it encourage fluency in any way.
It is easier to use your new language skills when you live with native speakers. They are able to help you out during the early phases of learning because of their grasp on the language. They can also help you find the right words you are looking for when you struggle.
Most important of all, you get a better grasp of the culture that informs the language. This means you will walk away with new friends living in new countries and a new appreciation of their language.
5. Read, Read, Read
The best way to improve your vocabulary in any language is to read in that language regularly. Start by picking up local newspapers and working your way through them to learn more about where you are. You can try online sources. Another good option is children’s books, which contain simplified language and important vocabulary. Work your way up to novels. Soon, you will be telling jokes in multiple languages.
The best way to learn through immersion is to really immerse yourself in the new language. This requires more than just going there. It means throwing yourself head first into the language no matter how scary it seems.
Resist the temptation to use English as your fall back and get creative when speaking in your adopted language. Not only will your language skills improve, but you will end up with a great story about the time you had to mime out the words “military tank” to a Polish man in a Krakow market.
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