Language Course, Language Classes, and Foreign Language alternatives
Welcome, aspiring polyglot! As many people know, the novel travel experience can be enhanced by being able to speak the local language. For that reason, when you are planning to travel, it may just be worth your time to create a system to follow during your trip that will allow you to simultaneously learn the language while you travel. Whenever you begin working on a new language, there will be challenges. However, if you can center your travels around learning the official language of the places you are visiting, you may just find that many of those challenges are alleviated.
Whether you choose group language courses, a language school, or personalised language courses, you will notice quickly that studying in a different country expedites the development of language skills ever so slightly. Though it certainly is not the end all be all, ensuring that you will have ample stimulus with regards to the local language is vital in ensuring the best outcome for your language travels. That said, there are a few reasons why travelers make the best language learners.
Why Travelers Make the Best Language Learners
A major reason that most people who are traveling are better positioned to learn a language is because they do not really have a choice. When you can choose between studying a foreign language or watching Netflix, the decision is often far easier than it should be. However, when you have no choice but to learn the language in order to integrate into the local culture, you will see your language skills develop quickly. That said, it never happens fast enough.
One of the main drivers for those who are living abroad and learning a new language is frustration. An inability to adequately express oneself is quite possibly one of the most frustrating things, irrespective of which language the struggle happens in and that frustration should be transmuted into motivation. If you cannot express yourself in a way that you deem acceptable than you should be working day in and day out to get to a point where you can. That is why travelers have such a unique advantage, they are surrounded by the language already and do not, therefore, need to go out of their way to create separate systems.
The best part about knowing that your goal is to improve your communication is that you can focus on the things that drive it. You can write out conversations, you can play them through in your head, you can listen to podcasts to hear different ways to say similar things. A language is an enormous thing and being able to break it into consumable pieces is going to be important for your long term success. Once you push beyond the period of frustration you will inevitably endure, you can take advantage of the enrichment phase.
Language trips are some of the most enriching because, rather than focusing on the tourist traps and the things everyone has seen you have the opportunity to develop a deeper understanding of local customs, language, and culture. In any given community there are events that are going on year round and most of them are culture centered which means you have the opportunity to immerse yourself not only in the local language but in the local culture as well.
You might just find that a proper appreciation for the things being shared with you results in the ability to come back and be welcome any time you like. When you take time to actually express interest in the locals, they tend to respect you more than other tourists.
Speaking a country's native language earns respect from locals
Most people do not take their language study seriously. This results in miscommunication, frustration, and sometimes resentment from the locals. In fact, this problem is so pervasive that people will actively expect less from you if they know you are a foreigner. The fastest way to earn people's respect is to be better than they expect. Fortunately, there are people every day who actively lower the expectations of local communities all around the world.
When it comes to speaking with your host family or locals or anyone really, the most impactful thing you can do is speak. People crave communication and they are by and large better than they get credit for which is sad. Most people want to talk to you, they want to meet new people and learn new things. However, you have to become someone worth speaking with or you may find they tire of your company after a few discussions. There are a few things you can do immediately to ensure that, when the day comes, you are prepared.
If you want to be interesting, be interested
Something many people miss when they are starting over in a new country, looking to make friends, is that no one cares about them. And why would they? What have you done that would warrant attention from someone who does not even speak your native language? Likely, nothing. However, that presents you with quite the opportunity. Not only will you be able to make tons of friends, but you will also likely get out of having to speak your target language for a while as you acclimate.
People love to talk about themselves and, cliché as it may sound, no one cares how much you know until they know how much you care. By simply being interested in someone else's story, their family, their culture, and their language you will be doing something that most tourists and passport bros do not, you'll be making genuine connections. Once they know you care, you will find they start to ask you questions because now they also care. From this foundation you can build any relationship you want so long as you are intentional about it. But what if you aren't a "people person"?
Being a people person starts with being a person
Until you start trying this, it is not going to make sense. Once you do, though, you will find that it is, in fact, effective. When you have interests and you treat other people well, they will return it. Whether we like it or not, people by and large will never listen. They will, however, imitate. Give them something worth imitating and you may find that the friendships you build are actually a reflection of who you are. Good or bad, there is always room for improvement here, so if you are struggling, try diving into a hobby, learning a new skill, mastering uncommon language, or even just paying attention to what people say.
Surprise people by paying attention
As sad as it may sound, most people do not pay attention to others when they speak. This is especially true for people who are learning a new language as the perception is that you need to be thinking of your response as they speak so as to not get caught in an awkward silence. This could not be further from the truth.
An awkward silence while you think of how to formulate a sentence is far better than an awkward silence after someone tells you something they shared with you before for the third time as it sinks in that you will never hear what they are saying. No one cares if you take time to respond. In fact, in most cases people will take you more seriously if you pause and ponder before you respond. Not only that, but it gives you an in whenever you want to speak with that person again.
Being able to recall small details about a person's story is a super power that everyone can develop but few ever will. It takes active, intentional listening which can be difficult in one's native language let alone a foreign language. That said, it is a skill worth developing and it will pay you back ten fold as you progress through your travels, language acquisition, and life generally. From there, all that is left is getting the return invitation.
Becoming the Bienvenue
In French, "bienvenue" means "welcome" and as a traveler your goal is going to be becoming the "welcomed one" wherever you go. It might not make sense in the abstract, but what this essentially means is you have an open invitation to return, not just to the country, but to people's homes and their very lives. Being welcome does not mean that the people you met will meet you at a bar for a beer. Being welcome means people will pick you up at the airport and have a room ready for you along with your favorite meal when you arrive. This will only happen if you are willing to do that for them as well, even if it never ends up happening.
Friendships and relationships in general are reciprocal and if the people you are meeting feel that you are not putting any effort forth they will respond in kind. Again, people do not listen, they imitate. Master these things, be intentional when you are studying the language, and pay attention when people speak. These skills will serve you not only while you travel, but in most other areas of life, so starting now is the best thing you can do. One day, not too far off, you will be the bienvenue wherever you choose to go.
If you are going to spend time traveling, it is worth your time to invest in learning the language spoken in the places you will be visiting. Though it takes time, it is one of the best investments you can make in yourself to improve both your present and future. Without a solid grasp of the local language, you will find your travels to be husks of what they could be. Will you still enjoy your time abroad if you do not speak the language? More than likely. However, there are things you will never even hear about if you do not make the effort.
Not only that, but most people abroad do not, or will not, speak English. Even if they can speak it perfectly, the fact that you go out and expect them to make an effort without having made an effort yourself can be off-putting for many. In fact, effort is all that is really required at the end of the day.
In the majority of cases, once people see you making an effort they will do what they can to bridge the gaps in your communication. That said, if you are American, it is expected that you only be able to speak one language. Exceed people's expectations of you and an entirely new world of possibilities will open up to you.
Learning a foreign language is no easy feat, it will be difficult irrespective of how you approach it. But you can do difficult things and be great, so continue to do difficult things and be great. I will be here by your side endeavoring to do the same.
Be sure to check out Second Language Strategies to catch up on anything you missed, find me on Twitter or Instagram for some short form content. If you are struggling to get speaking in your target language, join our Discord! I look forward to seeing everyone’s progress in the months and years to come.