When you study a language, you look for any opportunity to use it. Travel is one of the best as you have a chance to interact with a culture where your target language is spoken and you can also learn how people use it out in the real world. Not all of us have the time (or money) to spend months or years in a country perfecting our language skills, so we have to pick up what we can when visiting as a tourist. You may be feeling unsure about how exactly to improve your language knowledge as a short-term visitor, so check out these tips on how best to self-study as a tourist and get ready for some intense language learning while you’re abroad!
1. Take time to review
There will be many times as a tourist where you’ll find yourself waiting for something. You might be in line at the Eiffel Tower in Paris, or stuck in traffic in Mumbai, whatever the case, take advantage of these moments of down time and review what you already know about the target tongue. Download a flashcard app on your phone so you can use it even when you don’t have internet access, or carry along a small notebook with some key vocab and grammar notes. Reviewing in a country where the language is actually spoken is a completely different experience; you tend to cement knowledge much more easily because you’re actually using it!
2. Take time to make notes
Something you’ll definitely want to do while travelling is take notes. You’ll be bombarded with tons of new vocabulary on a daily basis and there’s simply no way you’ll be able to remember it all unless you write it down. Don’t be embarrassed about pulling out your phone and adding to your vocab list. Most tourists will be taking pictures with their phones so you won’t stand out, and as a tourist you get a little more leeway to be weird anyways. If you’re not keen on keeping a list on your phone, a small notebook will work just fine! Remember that if you keep notes during your short journey you’ll have lots of resources to fall back on when you return home and to your regular course of language learning.
3. Take time to interact
Last year when I visited a small village in France, I stayed at a B&B where the owner only spoke French. Everyone else at the B&B was also French so breakfast together was an interesting experience-at least for me! It would have been easier to rush through breakfast to get myself out of the situation, but it was a fantastic opportunity to interact and stretch my knowledge. So every morning I’d linger over breakfast while holding a conversation with the owner and her guests. Sure, most of it went over my head, but it was an incredible learning experience. When you travel, be sure to do the same. If you have a chatty bartender, or the opportunity to take part in a conversation, do it! Don’t rush off to do something else, take time to chat with anyone who seems willing to spend a little extra time with you and doesn’t mind your limited knowledge of their language.
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4. Take time to immerse
A fun way to boost your language skills, even if you’re only in a country for a short time as a tourist, is to do your usual touristy activities in the target tongue. This can mean taking tours that are conducted in German while visiting Berlin, or opting for a Spanish audio guide when seeing museums in Mexico City. In fact, museums and historical tours are two of the best ways to truly immerse yourself into a language precisely because you’ll be learning about the culture and history of the country you’re visiting at the same time. Culture, history, and language are closely intertwined and it will certainly give you a different perspective on the language you’ve spent hours slaving to conquer.
5. Take time to look
If you pay attention as a traveller in a new city, you’ll be surprised at how much you can learn by simply taking the time to look around. Pay attention to the food you’re eating and what it’s called. Read signs. Take a moment to puzzle over advertisements and posters. Eavesdrop on conversations. You’ll pick up little language titbits here and there that will be hard for you to forget because you can tie them to a particular memory or precise point in time. Visiting Spain? Learn what the different beer sizes are so you can order a pint in style. Travelling to Taiwan? Hang out at the night markets to learn local slang and names of Taiwanese dishes. Be alert and pay attention to what’s going on around you and your language skills will surely improve!
Do you have any tips that have helped you self-study as a tourist? Share them below!