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Learning a language while traveling

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1. Posted by sfboots (First Time Poster, 1 posts) 2 Jun '09 18:09

Hello,

I am wondering if you enjoy learning a language while you travel. I am biased - I make language guides, and I am curious how people learn languages. I love teaching languages too, so if you have any great stories about learning languages I would love to hear them!

Cheers,
Andrew

2. Posted by skateaddic (Budding Member, 11 posts) 2 Jun '09 19:41

I think its amazing, being able to use different languages to communicate.

I always like to learn the basics, please, thank you, hello, good bye and anything else polite that shows respect to anywhere you are visiting... before going.

Ive also worked with alot of people from different countries, now living here in Canada, and once you become friends with someone, you generally learn (personally speaking) how to muck around with them, and the best way to do that is learn all the bad words... which are usually the first they teach you, lol! I know how to say thank you and **** you in a handful of languages... its too much fun, no? I love it.

Ive also learned on the spot, but usually the languages of other travellers around me as opposed to the country Im in... I definately like to show up prepared.

I have decided to go further than the cheat sheet this time and actually study a language, and have been teaching myself spanish with a CD/text book tutorial, with some practise and help from spanish-speaking friends. This is definately one of the funnest things Ive done in ages! Learning language is a challenging, rewarding, and most of all fun activity. And now that I have the skills, to go out and be able to use them to survive somewhere... its a good feeling!

Ive been thinking about taking an English teaching course so that I may be able to put myself into more language oreiented situations, you said you are a teacher? How did you get into that, and what opportunities has it granted you? Im interested!

3. Posted by rbyslipahs (Respected Member, 349 posts) 3 Jun '09 03:36

I'm an anthropologist/archaeologist, so I have this strange desire to learn as many recherche languages as I can possibly pack in my head. Or at least pack in very random sayings! ("Mind your own onions," or "The fish is delicious, thank you very much," or "No, I am not Chinese.")

After working with international students for several years, I think that language learning patterns vary between cultures, based more on how the students were taught and not so much as inherent cultural/philosophical concepts. For example, my Chinese friends have the hardest time with aural English skills for several reasons. First, they were taught reading, writing, and grammar in English while in school in China, but they did not focus as much on speaking and listening skills. When they arrive at our university in the USA, they are funneled a bit too well into national groups by the international studies school, and tend to associate with primarily other Chinese students (the same being true for all national student groups on campus). Many of them don't know how to approach the US students, and they feel further intimidated by the language barrier. One cultural component does play a role here, in that the Chinese students in particular do not want to lose face in front of each other by speaking in what they perceive as faltering/halting English -- anything less than fully fluent. It isn't until several years later, when they have found a job here in the US and their supervisor tells them that they are an excellent employee, but they need to devote serious attention to their English skills that they finally seek help.

I have been working with one friend in particular for several years. He didn't understand my frustration for quite a while. He has known for a while that he needs to improve his English skills, but it wasn't until recently during a review when his boss informed him that he is an outstanding employee (and gave him a promotion) but at the same time put him on a six-week track to noticeably improve his English that he decided to really get serious about it.

My advice to him is the same advice I would give to anyone picking up a language on the go: the hardest part isn't so much the grammar or accent. Those things come with time but aren't necessarily picked up immediately. The thing to focus on really is vocabulary memorization. Carry a set of homemade flashcards with you, twenty to thirty, and focus on using the words in conversation. Do a different set each week. Make it easier by working on a theme (food, work, etc). Don't be afraid of showing off your terrible accent to a stranger in a coffee shop or on a train -- ask them for pronunciation help. My friend says his main difficulty lies in recalling a word or phrase on the go. Carry a small dictionary (book or electronic) but use it only when necessary. Don't be afraid to take a few seconds to search your brain's memory banks for the word first, and once you know the word/phrase, use it several more times that day and week to cement it.

Personally, I haven't spoken Spanish on a regular basis in over ten years, but on a recent trip to Spain, I was able to pull it right back out. Waiters and cabbies made wonderful teachers and conversation partners. Like the above reply, I also learn thank you (please is not common to all languages) and a few other phrases/words before I go, but thank you is always the first thing I ask for pronunciation help when I get there. Sometimes it's said quite differently than what my book tells me!

4. Posted by Redpaddy (Inactive, 1004 posts) 4 Jun '09 11:17

I have a place in Bulgaria that I go to 2-3 times a year (roll on June 16!!) and a few years ago - it became apparent that I needed to give the language a go. I now speak it OK (just OK) and read the Cyrillic alphabet fluently. It was all so difficult at first, but all of a sudden - it just happened.
Stick with just one language for starters and you'll soon pick it up, as long as you keep going.
Good luck.

5. Posted by magykal1 (Travel Guru, 2026 posts) 10 Jun '09 00:38

I like to learn a bit of the language wherever I'm going, 'enough to get by' as us English middle class types tend to say. The past couple of times I've bought audio courses and copied them onto my MP3 player so I could listen on the plane or whatever. That worked pretty well for me.

I reckon the best way to learn a language thoroughly is the sort of immersive experience people are talking about - I learned far more French from a month in France speaking to French people than in 6 years of classes at school.

6. Posted by t_maia (Moderator, 3291 posts) 10 Jun '09 05:10

The way I learn languages is (not kidding) that I read them.

I'm an avid reader, I am so good that I can read usually read 2-3 times as fast as people with similar education and background compared to myself. (And still understand/memorize everything.)

So when I learn a language I start with the script and some basic words. I then pick up an unfamilar text and start reading.

Usually this is one of the next reading comprehension lessons in the textbook I got. I go over and over the text again until I have memorised all the vocabulary in context. Listening to the same text read out by a native speaker from a cd or cassette gives me the knowledge how to pronounce the words.

Once I feel familiar enough with the basics I then start looking at newspaper articles or whole novels. Movies are also good, especially if they come on DVD with multiple language options.

I've found that the advantage to this method is that apart from picking up the vocabulary in a natural way (just as if you were learning the language as a child) I also memorise grammar and spelling at the same time. Plus reading the novels or watching the movies is much more fun than the sticker or cards method some people apply.

7. Posted by magykal1 (Travel Guru, 2026 posts) 10 Jun '09 05:41

Quoting t_maia

I've found that the advantage to this method is that apart from picking up the vocabulary in a natural way (just as if you were learning the language as a child) I also memorise grammar and spelling at the same time. Plus reading the novels or watching the movies is much more fun than the sticker or cards method some people apply.

Yeah, I agree about the cards thing, plus I find it absolutely impossible to retain anything without any context to associate it with. I guess it must work for a lot of people though.

8. Posted by t_maia (Moderator, 3291 posts) 10 Jun '09 06:22

The only time I ever used the cards method was when I had to learn a lot of specialised vocabulary (legal, business and medical) for a translator exam during very short time. I couldn't have picked that vocabulary up by my usual methods, it would have taken me far too long to read the necassary books.

Essentially I would have needed to read the same textbooks students of medicine, law and business management read and learn the contents just like they do - but with only 6 months to cram in everything they learn within 3 years and in 2 foreign languages too. It was impossible to do with books, so I used the cards.

But even then I wrote phrases or whole sentences on the cards, not words.