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Top tips to help you learn a language while travelling

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When you don't speak another language going abroad can be quite stressful. 

You want to have fun, explore places and get to know the locals, but how do you do this when you can't speak the language? After all, communication is key and waving your hands about will only get you so far.

That's why it is a good idea to try and learn a language before you go, or alternatively, learn it while you travel. Not only is learning a new language useful and impressive on a CV, but it also makes your trip away far more enjoyable.

Even if you only learn parts of a language while you're away, it will help you communicate better with the locals. You might even enjoy it and be encouraged to learn even more once your back!

That's why the Didactics team at language learning app Babbel have come up with a list of ways you can learn a language while travelling:

Dos:

Speak to anyone and everyone

Don’t miss out when you're abroad! Travelling is all about seeing new things, mingling with the locals and getting involved in new experiences, and learning a language is a great way to make sure you do exactly that. By speaking the local language, you can delve deeper into understanding the people, culture, and you will gain huge respect from locals.

To help you on your language learning journey, make sure you chat to as many people as possible, as this will help you ‘get your ear in’ and improve your vocabulary recall. No matter how much time you spend learning the grammar and vocabulary, you won’t feel comfortable speaking the language without putting yourself out there: ask for directions, order food and try to tell a joke, all in the local language. The more you do this, the bigger your comfort zone becomes and the more at ease you will feel throughout your travels.

Keep a vocab book with you

It might feel a little strange to begin with, but writing down any foreign language phrases you hear in a little book, and keeping it by you at all times is really useful while you travel. Think of it as a personalised glossary of local lingo. This way, if you’ve heard a phrase before and want to use it, you can look back at your own notes, without having to piece together a translation from a dictionary. If you are someone who learns by writing things down, this is also a great way to help you remember those helpful travel phrases, and soon you won’t be needing to look at your notes.

Learn in your downtime

Taking a few minutes to learn in your downtime is a great way to arm yourself with any vocabulary you might need for your next adventure. Having a plan, and dedicating just 10 to 15 minutes a day will keep your brain active and constantly engaged in the new language. By learning a little whenever you can, you will be able to take advantage of every opportunity you’re presented with while abroad! So when you’re in a cafe charging your phone or winding down after a long day of sightseeing, log into an app or site (like the Babbel app) and learn a little more! 

Don’ts:

Don’t be afraid to make a mistake

Though it might not feel like it at the time, making mistakes is an essential part of the language learning process. It’s the only way to perfect your pronunciation! The trick here is not being afraid of making mistakes and giving it a go anyway. In fact, research by Michigan State University has shown that if mistakes are approached in the right way, (i.e when they are a tool for learning) they can reduce your chances of making further mistakes. You can’t get better at speaking a language unless you try, and practising with a native or fluent speaker who can give you real-time feedback is one of the best ways to improve. 

Don’t cave into speaking English

As English is a widely spoken language, the temptation to just revert to what you know is going to be hard to avoid. It’s also likely that once people find out that you speak English, they might try to practice their own language skills with you! It’s important that you don’t fall into the trap, and stick with your language learning. Sure, it’s great to have a fallback option, but remember that learning a new language takes practice, so make sure you get it. 

Don’t lose faith!

Some days you’re going to be exhausted and exasperated with learning a new language, but don’t give up! If you’re struggling to string a sentence together on any given day, just remind yourself how far you’ve come and recall some of the breakthrough moments you’ve enjoyed - perhaps ordering a coffee in perfect Italian, or sharing a fun joke in flawless French.

Language learning is a process, and some days you might feel like you’re taking two steps forward and one step back, but keep going and don’t give up. Afterall, if you’re not where you want to be with your skills by the end of your trip, you can always keep coming back.

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