As a language teacher and a long term language learner I thought about hints which can be useful for every language learner travelling to a country of his/her target language. I picked eight the most useful rules of using a stay there to improve language skills.
Yes, you got me right. Don’t be embarrassed to get involved in someone else’s conversation on a train or in a metro. If you are a beginner, try to get the gist of the conversation. Create a listening exercise for yourself. Answer: who is talking? What is their main topic? What is the tone of the conversation? Try to remember some details and in the end try to recount it to someone in your target language or write it as a note in your diary on Italki. This technique really helped me to get used to the rhythm and speed of Spanish when I was living in Barcelona. Although a lot of people spoke Catalan, I could eavesdrop a couple of interesting stories. In one of them a teenage girl was crying while trying to tell her boyfriend she was pregnant. I felt sorry for her and proud of myself as it was in the very beginning of my adventure with Spanish.
Do your shopping in a local store, avoid supermarkets. While buying a snack in a bakery make a remark about the weather to the cashier or just comment on her new hairstyle. Not everyone is an extravert but it won’t hurt you too much. If you are afraid of a failure – it’s not a problem, you are going to stay there only for some time and if for longer – hey! No one learnt a language without making mistakes. I used to print a lot for my students of Polish in a copy shop and in the very beginning of my stay in Spain I started talking to a fat, lazy bulldog with a crooked smile, a pet of the owner of the shop. I used to scratch him and talk to him in Spanish. Later his owner realized I was trying to practice my Spanish but I was too shy and he started to ask me questions. In the end he asked me for a date and it was the last time I copied anything there.
Do you remember how you learned your first foreign language when you were a child? I do. I read all the labels on cosmetics and detergents in the bathroom. When you are abroad, don’t lose this opportunity. Read and translate for yourself every road sign, take picture of names of products in stores, the names of stores themselves, stands with menus on them standing outside of restaurants. Everything in your target language you can spot. You will revise your new words while showing the pictures to friends and the personalised context of learning will stick them to your memory forever.
If you are going abroad there is a big chance you are going to visit someone. Friendly locals tend to do everything for guests. Don’t let your friend do it for you. Ask him/her if you can call and order a pizza for you. Try to check in without help and bargain the price of taxi (in some countries) alone. It may seem hard and sometimes you will need to ask for help but it is fine. Your friend can be your back up but it is you will face the reality in the new language. A lot of waiters and receptionists speak English. It is easy to use their language skills but don’t let it be your case. If they, seeing your struggle, switch to English, keep trying in your L2 maybe explaining you want to practice. They will continue with smile (if they are not very in a hurry). Once my friend whose Spanish was on A.0. level wanted to tell the waiter the tapas was delicious. His intention was to say “Todo es muy bueno.” He ended up saying “Tu eres muy bonito.” What means “You are very beautiful.” We all laughed and he never repeated this mistake again.
If you are travelling alone, you might look for some native speakers on spot. In most of bigger cities you can find language exchange meetings which are amazing opportunities to not only practice your language skills but also to meet people interesting in language learning like you. You can help them, they can help you. Everyone wins.
While it’s not a problem to buy e-books and movies in English online, these items might be hard to find if you are a student of any of the less popular languages like the language I teach – Polish. If you are in the country for a short period of time, you must find a couple of hours to do your language learning shopping. Buy some books if you are advanced. They will be cheaper there and the choice will be greater than the random ones you find on Amazon. You can look around a second-hand or outlet library. There are a lot of them everywhere (At least in Poland, Spain and Egypt) If you are intermediate or lower – check the children section (avoid legends and old fairy tales) and poetry section. Look for newspapers. Don’t forget about movies – impossible to get online will be in a good quality and with English subtitles if you buy them there.
Edit: I found Polish books in a second-hand store in Cairo, Egypt so well – it’s possible!
A lot of students think that if they move to their target language country they will be immersed enough to acquire the language naturally. There is nothing less true as this statement. Adult learners usually are not language sponges like children. We don’t feel the language before understanding it’s rules. You may find yourself very busy with your everyday life to focus on your language development. Maybe you will study or work in English, your local friend will be from international circle and you will depart with lower level of language than you arrived.
One of my friends in Spain was a yoga instructor. I attended the first class just because I wanted to be nice. I didn’t understand anything what she was saying so I strained my neck trying to do yoga poses and looking at her. I liked it so much I stayed and after a couple of classes I didn’t have to look at the instructor. I unthinkingly learned a big bunch of new swords such as “ stretch, ankle, knee, elbow, inhale, exhale” . If you are staying for at least a couple of weeks and you are not a couch potato I highly recommend this form of Total Body Response technique for adults.
To sum up, travelling to the target language country is the most amazing opportunity you can give yourself. Even if it’s a weekend or a business travel – use it maximally. This will be your exercise and probably goal too. It will make you feel more confident, it will show you what you need to improve and it will build your personal experience in new language. You will be surprised how much you have learned following these eight tips. Good luck!
P.S. If you liked this post, let me know so I will write more! Also – I’m not a native English speaker so if you spotted mistakes – and I’m sure you did – also let me know in a comment or mail me.