Traveling to a foreign country and want to be able to speak the native language? Here are some of the best ways to learn a language for travelers!
How to Learn a Language for Travelers
Why you should learn your destination’s language
Florence’s Mercato Centrale is a tantalizing hub of everything a foodie could want – every type of unpronounceable Italian charcuterie, cheese wheels large enough to fit a semi-truck, freshly made pasta hanging over racks and windows and clothes-lines to dry before being bought for someone’s dinner.
It’s also a black-hole for the English language, as my mom and I learned when we tried to purchase some of those tasty offerings. What was supposed to be an afternoon snack of Tuscan charcuterie turned into a weeklong meal of $40 worth of meat and cheese, simply because we didn’t know the Italian words for “Stop,” or “That’s good. I don’t need any more salami,” and what would have been really helpful: “Please, I don’t want the entire wheel of pecorino cheese.” But no, we went to Tuscany not knowing a single useful phrase in Italian and came up with much emptier pockets.
We got back home to the US with a lot of crazy stories because of our lack of Italian skills, but we also learned a lesson: a lot of people speak English, but a lot of people don’t. Unless you want to spend you trip making up sign language and doing a lot of pointing, it doesn’t hurt to learn the basics of your destination’s native language.
But no one wants to invest time in a formal foreign language class for a short vacation. So what are the most efficient and effective ways to learn a language for travelers? I asked other members of the travel blogging community for their ideas and tips and they came back with a list of apps, programs, and other creative ideas to help you prepare for your next trip abroad.
How to learn a language through apps and programs
Duolingo is the app that I have been using to prep for our upcoming trip to Portugal and I love it! The free program operates like a game. You work your way through levels and chapters and get points each time you complete something. Every chapter tests your pronunciations, spelling, and ability to put together sentences. There are modules that focus on a specific skill, such as a verb tense, grammar, or related nouns (animals, clothing, etc).
There’s also a general review that tests you on everything you’ve learned so far. If I have no time to learn anything new, I take five minutes out of my day to go through the review just to make sure I retain the information. You can also challenge friends, as well as interact with other people who are also learning the same language you are.
You won’t become fluent using Duolingo, but it’s a fun and effective way to learn enough of another language to get by on your travels.
Rosetta Stone is a great website/ application to learn a new language; while it is perfect for those beginning a language, it can also be used by people at an intermediate level.
I have used Rosetta Stone for two languages – Russian and Spanish. I have never been officially taught Russian but by using Rosetta Stone, I have a grasp of some basic words and phrases – and a Russian woman who I practiced with recently was very complimentary of what I’d learned!
My Spanish was a lot more advanced when I started learning it on Rosetta Stone; I spoke it at a good level from spending a lot of time in Mexico when I was a child and traveling around Guatemala in more recent years. However, I was pleasantly surprised at how much Rosetta Stone had to offer me.
The program teaches languages on a repeat and practice basis, so you’ll be going over the same words again and again until they are ingrained in your memory. It sounds a little dull, but they manage to keep it entertaining, by switching between key skills (speaking, listening, reading and writing) and using the interactive input format which makes it seem like a game.
There are lots of chances to record and practice your speaking and pronunciation, which is a great feature of Rosetta Stone that many self-teaching programs lack.
You can use the software on your computer, tablet or mobile, so check it out today!
By: Claire of Claire’s Footsteps
With all the resources accessible online, there’s no reason to let the inability to communicate in a foreign language stop anyone from discovering the world. The most seasoned travelers will all agree that knowing even the basics of a local language while being abroad can go a long way! Enters Drops, a free language-learning app available for Androids and iPhone users. It has been named Google’s Best App of 2018 and App of the day in over 100 countries on the App Store.
While Drops won’t make you fluent in a language, it offers a comprehensive set of vocabulary-building games delivered daily through five-minute bursts of simple memory drills. It’s based on the concept that smaller chunks of time require lower involvement, thus helping in creating consistency and developing a learning habit without overwhelming the user with long lessons.
Drops currently has 31 languages to choose from, with a range of topics that cover nearly 90% of the vocabulary necessary to effectively communicate one’s basic needs in a foreign language. With its simple interface, Drops brings visual learning to a whole new level with vibrant illustrations that facilitates retention rather than translating the word to your native language.
Overall, Drops is a great tool to enrich your vocabulary as you dabble in learning a new language.
By: Safia of Nomad Junkies
There’s only one way to truly learn a language – and that’s to speak it. That’s the reason you’re learning a language, right? To communicate with people, get around in a foreign country, be able to speak with your significant other’s family, or immerse yourself in a foreign culture.
All the studying of grammar books and playing with apps won’t make you fluent – but speaking will. And that’s where iTalki is a fabulous learning tool. iTalki is a relatively new platform that allows you to learn a language online with a native speaker at a time that’s convenient for you. You can learn a new language – or maintain an old one – via Skype or other video chat software.
Teachers are from around the world and the program offers hundreds of different languages, from popular languages like English, Spanish and French, to lesser-spoken languages like Xhosa and Basque. They offer lessons at various price ranges so you can find someone that fits your budget.
I’ve used iTalki to learn both Spanish and French and found it to be a simple yet highly effective tool. I found all my teachers by viewing their profiles (most of which have a video introduction so you can get an initial idea of whether they’ll be a good fit for you) and then got to know them through weeks of one-on-one teaching. Lessons were completely tailored to my needs and level. I didn’t have to go anywhere to attend a class so I could spend more time preparing beforehand to ensure each class was a good one. All my teachers have been so supportive and really taken my language learning to a whole new level.
If you’re serious about learning a language, I highly recommend iTalki.
By: Rebecca of Rebecca and the World
The Pimsleur Language program is a series of 90 audio language lessons that are each 30 minutes in length. The program is quite possibly the best and simplest passive method for learning languages. Done in concert with an interactive learning program like Duolingo, Pimsleur is a perfect complement because language learning can occur while doing virtually anything else, from cleaning to exercising, to driving a car.
Whenever I arrive in a new country, I always start my travels in that country with a self-guided tour through the city, put in my headphones, and absorb the language while I wander and become acquainted with the country, using the language wherever I can and effectively avoiding tourist prices. Over my time in the country, I always take 30 minutes a day to wander, listen to Pimsleur, and learn their language along the way.
Before my adventures, I listen to one lesson per day on my commute to work for the primary country I’ll visit – usually 15 minutes on my way to work and 15 minutes going home. I’ve successfully learned Spanish and Italian this way and refreshed my Arabic, so I have tons of faith in the Pimsleur program and highly recommend it.
By: Carlos of A Brother Abroad
A key component of learning anything, but especially a foreign language, is repetition. Seeing or hearing a word once isn’t normally enough to remember it: you typically have to see and hear it several times before it’s committed to memory. Traditionally you would write down any new words that you’re learning in a notepad but, these days, there are apps like Memrise that are specifically designed for that.
Once you enter a new word or phrase, Memrise will keep showing you the word and testing you on it until it’s confident that you have properly learned it. As well as your own lists, Memrise also has entire courses for most languages. It’s one of the few free resources for learning European Portuguese, for example; it also covers more unique languages like Galician or Haitian.
Everyone has their own ideas of how you should learn a language but, regardless of the approach you take to learning a new language, Memrise is a tool that just about every language learner can utilize.
Memrise is available as an app for iOS or Android devices, and you can also access the website at Memrise.com.
By: James of Portugalist
One of the hardest things about learning a new language is remembering vocab.
I used to write down all my favorite words in a notepad but the words never seemed to stick! Then I found the app flashcards deluxe which completely revolutionized my Spanish-learning. It’s an app which you can use whenever you have any spare time, whether you’re waiting for a bus, waiting for pasta to boil, or in the bath!
It’s basically your own dictionary where you add words and phrases that you want to learn. It’s a bit like Tinder for language-learning… Click ‘play’ and you’ll be shown your first card. If you know the translation, swipe up and you won’t get it again for a while. If you don’t know it, swipe down and you’ll be tested again soon.
The idea is that you test yourself each day until you ‘know’ each card and have swiped through them all. Each day, if you keep adding words to it and regularly test yourself, your list of vocabulary will expand at a crazy rate!
There are free versions of similar apps available, but I think it’s worth paying the $3.99 for this app as you have an unlimited amount of vocab you can enter. Most of the free apps have a maximum of 100 words, which won’t be enough if you’re serious about learning a language!
By: Harriet of Hats Off
What is the most important thing when learning a new language? Conversation, conversation and once more conversation! It doesn’t matter how many words you know unless you can use them to form some simple sentences and speak to others. There is a great way to practice your speaking skills with a native speaker without leaving the comfort of your own home, and it’s completely free too. So how does it work?
Using a language exchange website, you can teach someone else a language you know while they help you with the language you want to learn. You and your language partner can communicate through text, audio, video services or whatever is comfortable for both of you.
Examples include but are not limited to the following websites:
Conversation exchange– a convenient search tool to find your perfect language partner: choose what language they speak, what language they are learning (the one you know), their level, country, age, gender. Once you find somebody that fits your requirements, you can add them as a contact and send them a message.
Speaky– a nice looking, intuitive and easy to use website. You can chat or make calls (audio and video) directly from your browser, and there is a translator that’s always accessible at the bottom of the page.
By: Jim and Inna of Executive Thrillseekers
How to learn a language through immersion
In order to learn a language, we had tried apps and online courses but simply couldn’t commit or would find ourselves cheating to find the answers. Instead, we found a solution, which many might consider “jumping in at the deep end” by joining the volunteer program, Workaway.
We stayed with a Swiss family for a month to practice French. In exchange for a few hours work each morning, they gave us food and accommodation as well as unlimited memories and endless giggles at our poor pronunciation. Immersing ourselves in Swiss life allowed us to learn so much about the culture and language, far more than we would’ve learned reading the words from a screen.
After our experience in Switzerland, we completed a Workaway in Crete on an olive farm. This was far more challenging as the hosts didn’t speak English, so we had to communicate in Greek (and a LOT of sign language.) Again, living with locals and surrounding ourselves in the language proved beneficial to our learning experience. If you fancy a challenging yet rewarding way to learn a new language we cannot recommend Workaway enough. We put together a full Workaway review that covers everything you need to know about joining, setting up a profile, and the best tips to ensure your dream host says yes. You’ll be fluent in no time!
By: Lauren of Faramagan
An excellent way to learn Spanish is by actually traveling to Spain and going to a Spanish language school. My personal choice was Enforex, a school that has branches in many places in Spain and Latin America. It offers several types of programs for all levels, and the study period varies from one week to one year. The school also offers accommodation, tours, and language exchange.
The lessons themselves are super interesting and interactive, and you get to practice diverse conversation topics. It was exciting for me to go to class every day and learn Spanish in such a fun way from the most incredible teachers. Plus, you’re in a Spanish speaking country, so you get to practice your Spanish all day long.
Another great thing about studying in Enforex is meeting people from all over the world. You wouldn’t normally find people from Japan, Turkey, Germany, and many other countries sitting in one classroom. It’s an inspiring experience all on its own and one more good reason to learn Spanish in Spain.
By: Or of My Path in the World
When it comes to learning a new language, I often struggle the most with remembering the pronunciation of words and how they should roll off my tongue. One of the most effective ways I’ve been able to learn a foreign language is by listening to music. It’s both entertaining and educational.
I first started learning Spanish by listening to Enrique Iglesias. His music had a good beat and I became more familiar with common sounds made in the language. The music piqued my curiosity and I would translate the lyrics to English to understand what the song was saying.
I also did the opposite and would listen to songs I knew in English, such as Christina Aguilera’s “Come on Over (All I Want Is You),” and then listen to the Spanish translation. Since I knew the lyrics in English I was then able to pair up what words meant what and knew the meaning of the song.
Both of these strategies made learning a new foreign language fun and exciting. I wanted to expand my vocabulary to understand more lyrics and suddenly learning new words wasn’t a bore.
By: Martha of Quirky Globetrotter
I recently spent almost 7 months traveling through Spanish speaking countries in Puerto Rico and South America. I wanted to be self-sufficient enough to travel independently and also be able to connect with local people, so learning some Spanish was essential. I used many methods, including conventional methods such as classroom lessons, but I found that podcasts were a great way to improve both my Spanish comprehension and speaking abilities.
One of my favorite learn-Spanish podcasts is a fun one called Coffee Break Spanish. It features a multilingual host whose co-host is a beginner learner just like the listener. Together they tackle many aspects of living and traveling in Spanish speaking countries. Episode topics range from basic greetings to navigating markets, pharmacies, and hotel mix-ups. The hosts offer pronunciation tips depending on whether or not you are traveling in South America or Spain, so you can be understood by the locals. Some episodes even go on location to talk to native Spanish speakers about topics that are of interest to them.
On their own, I don’t think the episodes will make a fluent speaker out of anyone, but they are a great way to practice listening to Spanish and get instruction in fun,15-minute sessions. I especially loved listening to them during those famously long South American bus rides!
Reading in a foreign language is a great way to pick up new vocabulary and grasp verb conjugations and more. However, picking up a classic novel bigger than your head can be very intimidating. Imagine starting your first foreign language novel with Don Quixote, very challenging indeed!
So I recommend starting with a book you already know. Reading Harry Potter in your new language is an ideal start! Who isn’t familiar with the general plot? Knowing what’s happening by having already read it in your native language will help you pick up new vocabulary based on context. Also, since the books in the Harry Potter series were designed around the idea that the audience would grow with the books, your language skills will also “grow” with them. The first book is an easier read than the final chapters in The Deathly Hallows. So, return to Platform 9 ¾ one more time to improve your new language skills in a fun, new way.
By: Erin of Sol Salute
How to learn a language creatively
Before embarking on an epic five-month traverse of South America, we figured we should really learn some Spanish. We began with some of the usual methods, getting to grips with the basics via some apps and CD courses. After a few weeks of this, we came up with an interesting way to practice our skills at home – Spanish-only nights.
We liked to call it ‘Spanish Sundays’. Every Sunday we would have a night in with a home-cooked dinner, following one golden rule as we prepared and ate the food: we were only allowed to speak Spanish. We could use dictionaries and online translators if we needed help, but English was forbidden.
This is a challenging and yet enjoyable way to practice language skills with a partner or friends, and you can have some fun setting your own rules.
At first, we found it tricky, and at times hilarious, as we accidentally slipped back into English. So we introduced some friendly penalties. For example, every time one of us spoke English, we had to put a little money into our savings jar. We not only improved our Spanish, but we saved some extra money for our travels as well!
By: Alex of Career Gappers
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