Learning New Languages
Travelling allows us the opportunity to immerse ourselves within a different culture and converse with others in a different language. Learning a new language benefits you and will enhance your experience of a country, even if you only learn a few phrases of the language before you go. Even a “hello, please and thank you,” are enough to make a local smile and it shows willing that you are trying to speak their language.
If you are planning a trip to Latin America for the future then the best languages to learn are Spanish and Portuguese (if you are visiting Brazil). For a trip to French Caribbean islands and French-speaking countries in Africa (such as Senegal), French is a good language to learn. If you need something a bit more challenging than a Latin language, how about Chinese or even Russian that is widely spoken in the former Soviet countries?
Now, is a good an opportunity as any to learn a new language and there are plenty of courses offering different methods of learning a language depending on your learning style. This article covers how to learn a language at home and the best languages courses out there.
N.b. If you're ready to plan your solo trip but are unsure how to do it, read my how to plan a solo trip article.
- Best Language Courses
- Duo Lingo
- Conversation Exchange
- Michel Thomas
- Colombian Spanish
- The Best Way To Learn a Foreign Language
Best Language Courses
As much as exercise books are a great way to help you to learn, they can take up space in your luggage. For language learners who don’t want to take a guide book and prefer to learn the language before here are the best language learning sites and courses that I have tried:
Duo Lingo (Free!)
This app is so easy to use and it’s free! It works like a game and awards you with virtual points when you learn new words and complete a section. You can do as little as 5 minutes a day or go full steam ahead and unlock the next section whilst testing your skills along the way. It’s fun and a great interactive way to learn some of the language. They have a podcast too.
If you can't afford to pay for a course, this is the best online French course, and best online Spanish course that you can find (you can also choose how to learn Korean, or how to learn Arabic too!)
Conversation Exchange (Free!)
All of the above programs are great ways to start learning a language but the only real way to progress is by talking to people in real life too. That’s where Conversation Exchange comes in. It's a language exchange app where you sign up and state your native language and the language that you want to learn. Learning then having a conversation with the vocabulary is the best way to learn Spanish.
You can then practice your Spanish with a native Spanish speaker via typing, Skype or meeting face to face for coffee. It’s a good way of meeting people and practicing the language before you arrive in a city.
This platform is one of the best online French courses that I have found. It is really interactive and provides lessons including grammar and conversation in any topic that you want to learn. You learn to speak a language naturally and the use of virtual flashcards helps you to remember new vocabulary, along with lessons on grammar rules. What I like about it is that it prompts you to constantly review your last lesson to make sure that what your learning is being repeated.
Choose Babbel Spanish, German, Portuguese or even Russian. The platform offers a low cost option for 14 different languages and the learning is self-paced. They have special offers too. My Babbel cost was half-price so I managed to get 12 months for the price of 6.
Pimsleur works on repetition. You listen to native speakers in particular situations then repeat the sentences you have just heard. Whether you sign up for Pimsleur French or Pimsleur Spanish or another language, if you listen to the audio each day for 30 minutes you’ll notice that the phrases that you previously learned are repeated as you build your language vocabulary. It is a different way of learning and can be slow for those who want to learn new language fast but there’s a reason that it’s an effective language learning and is popular.
Michel Thomas Spanish gave me such a good basis of Spanish when I was first learning. It's the easiest way to learn Spanish as his way of foreign language learning is so simple with plenty of language hacks to help you remember numerous rules and words. With two students in his virtual class, you feel as though you are learning along with them and correcting their mistakes. Instead of just repeating words, you get to understand the sentence structure and how verbs work. It’s a great way to learn grammar without having to write anything down. Learn Spanish, French or any other language you want to know.
Earworms is exactly what it says it is, a catchy way of learning a language that will continually run through your mind (like a catchy tune). Using music and rhythmic repetition, the audio lessons are spoken naturally and include essential phrases. Responding to the beat of the music helps to ingrain the words into your mind. It’s different but it works.
Another platform you can use is Lingoda. Lingoda is a platform that offers live and online 60-minute Zoom classes to language novices and intermediates, all designed to CEFR standards. People join Lingoda to gain access to native language speakers who make sure students are fluent enough for everyday situations. At the end of each class, you can download the class material and take a quiz to practice your new skills.
New students can join Lingoda to achieve mastery of Spanish, French or German conversation, grammar, and reading. They give you a 7-day trial then you pay $10-$40 per class (group classes cost less than 1-on-1 classes).
If you are planning on visiting Colombia in South America, Colombian Spanish is really useful. It’s a course for learning conversational Spanish for Colombia which teaches you how to speak like Colombians and to help you get the most out of your time in Colombia. And the best thing about it is, it’s taught by someone who learnt the language himself after years of being in Colombia so his online Spanish classes are easy to relate to.
The Best Way to Learn Foreign Language
The best way to learn a language is by travelling to a country and throwing yourself in at the deep end. It really is the fastest way to learn a language. If you really want to immerse yourself in the language here are some recommended ways on how to learn a language effectively when you travel:
1. Be a Copy-Cat
Traveling is one of the best ways to improve your pronunciation and learn vocabulary. You’re surrounded by locals speaking the language everywhere. Listen carefully to the locals and try repeating after them whenever you can, even if it’s just in your mind. Thinking the words will help build the muscle to remember the words. You’ll expand your vocabulary, as well as work on your accent.
2. Try Not to Speak Your Native Language
Resist the urge to speak your native language, even if you meet others from your country. It sounds great to find a waiter who is helpful and who you can understand, but if they reply in your native language it makes learning how to order food in another language difficult.
3. Travel To Places Where You Have to Speak the Local Language
If you know you’re going to be tempted to avoid the local language when you’re traveling, maybe you should choose a destination where you know it’s going to be difficult to find people that speak anything else. If you want to learn French then go to a French-speaking country, or for Spanish try Spain or South America. Although being forced to speak the language may sound like a frightening scenario, it will help you in the long run.
Colombians have one of the clearest Spanish accents making it a great country to visit if you want to learn the language. There are many language schools offering normal and intensive classes to get you started or help to improve your Castellano.
4. Try To Simplify Everything
When you’re learning a new language, you usually focus a lot on developing a vast vocabulary. However, more often than not, you will find yourself in situations where you’re going to forget even the simplest words. It happens to us even in our native language, you just miss that one word that you need to explain yourself. It also can happen if you're unsure of the past tense. In that instance just say it in the present tense and add on “in the past,” so that they understand what you mean.
Keep it simple. Maybe you know other words related to the one you’re missing. Or maybe you know what it’s called in a similar language? Some words in Spanish sound slightly similar in French, or you can try pronouncing it in English with an accent. You may be surprised that you get it right.
5. Just Go For It
Many of us feel self-conscious when it comes to expressing ourselves in a different language. We don’t want to embarrass ourselves with our not-so-perfect skills, especially in front of native speakers. So, most of the time we just avoid speaking.
This fear is understandable, but it’s also counterproductive. If you postpone speaking, thinking that you first want to learn the language, then you’ll never get to use that language. You may think you’re getting better at it while you’re studying by yourself, but when social situations require you to speak, you may struggle. So go ahead and make mistakes, stay focused and try learning from them, and then try again. Slowly, but surely, your skills will improve.
6. Have Fun!
They say that alcohol improves your ability to speak and learn languages so where better to try than in a social environment in a language exchange. If a glass of wine helps to get rid of self-consciousness (temporarily anyway), then be sociable and have fun doing it. You may make a new-found friend. Search for any language exchanges in the city that you're travelling to through Meet Up. Travelling can turn out to be a better tool for language learning than you thought. Don’t be afraid to speak foreign languages even if it’s less than perfect, and just have fun with it.
I hope that this article has shown you how to learn a new language. In my experience the best way to learn language is by travelling and immersing yourself in a country where you have to speak the language. Learning languages can be a challenge at the beginning but it allows you to feel more confident travelling to countries alone and opens you up to new possibilities.
How do you learn languages on the road?