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One kilometre is another language

One kilometre is another language

When was the last time you attempted to learn a new language or two? Interesting, huh?


The reality on the ground is that while some folks learn a language in order to travel, others travel to a place to learn the language. Indeed, for some tour models, travellers are purposely grouped to become acquainted with each other while learning a language in the regions they are touring.

The curious thing here is that as much as possible, everything is expressed in the target language, the food, the activities and even explaining the sights visited.

We all know it’s great fun when someone comes back from that trip and tries to impress us with a few lines from wherever. Though we may be bullied, we love it as we would do the same if we were the ones who had gone out there.

Like travel, learning a new language is a journey of interesting discoveries. But truth be faced, learning a language the traditional way is a big drain on one’s brain. But does travelling to the place of a language help?

First of all, let me make things easy here. For those of us who have travelled and those who have not, we need to be easy on ourselves. If we travel and do not speak the language, we should not at all feel like losers.

Let’s remember that learning a language is much more complex than most people realise. Those people you meet around the world at hotels, bars, museums and airports who speak their language have put in numerous hours learning vocabulary, verbs, pronunciation rules and much more so that they can speak with you.

When you do not understand a word when you are out there you can still connect. And I’m not just talking Google translate (lol). A smile and a gesture of humility can go a long way to open windows of friendship which in turn open doors to understand the language of the people.

My trick (which works for me) is to learn about the culture. Immerse yourself into a culture and its language will rub on you. There is also the bonus of goodwill that comes from people who notice that you are interested in their language. Not true everywhere, though. Some cultures don’t have patience for people experimenting with their mother tongue!

Learning a language is a process of absorbing information and interacting with people. With the Internet, you can build and create your own language world wherever you are. If you are lucky enough to have the opportunity to travel to the region or country where the language you are learning is spoken so much the better.

That can be a major motivator as you prepare yourself for that opportunity and, eventually, if you do go there, the more time you spend and the more you are interacting with people, the better you’re going to get. But the foundation can be built at home and then when you get the opportunity you can really take advantage.

It’s usually recommended that first-time solo travellers go to countries where they speak and understand the language. After all, language is your lifeline for safety, food and shelter.

But when you’re ready to go a bit farther afield and discover the adventure that waits in less familiar cultures, it’s important to have a strategy for the travel language issue. I leave you with 10 tips for travel in a foreign language.

1.    Learn the basics – at minimum learn to say please, thank you and hello in the local language before you go.

2.    Use hand gestures and sounds to get your point across. But please do your homework, to ensure that your gestures and sounds are not insulting.

3.    Have important details on a card in your wallet written in the local language – the address of your accommodation, the telephone number, your name and a contact person in case of emergency.

4.    Carry a phrase book. I know, it’s old school but for many people it offers a level of comfort that other options don’t. You could also save a bit of money by researching basic phrases on the web and printing them on a sheet of paper before you go.

5.    Download one of the many translation apps that are available for your smartphone.

6.    If you make a local friend at a coffee shop or grocery store, recruit them to be your teacher. Try to add a few, practical words to your vocabulary every day.

7.    Learn as you go. Use the phrase books as a crash course in the language. Extract the most important words – the nouns and verbs — and use them to communicate like a young child does, with very simple phrases.


8.    If you have the cash, hire an interpreter for special situations.

9.    Build language lessons into your travels. 

10.    Finally, be patient, stand back and observe. Many questions can be answered without speaking.

11.    Finally, (and again, this is from experience) don’t forget a few nasty words. They can help!

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