What to Do: Learn a Language
[singlepic=1600,250,,,right]If you’ve ever dreamed of learning a new language, there’s no better time than on your career break!
1. Go to a/the country where the language you want to learn is spoken.
If you are like me and want to learn Spanish, it is pretty easy to get to the Spanish speaking country of your choice from anywhere in the U.S. Frequently, flights into tourist hotspots like Cancun or Buenos Aires cost only a couple hundred dollars one way. Once you are there, you can catch either a domestic flight or a bus to just about anywhere for a whole lot cheaper than an international flight.
2. Settle down somewhere and spend time in a new community.
If you take a few months (or longer) and stay in just one place during this time you will learn a lot more of the language than if you just travel from place to place during that time.
Forming a routine means that you’ll see the same people day in and day out. You’ll stop to chat with the same store owner or vegetable vendor, get to know your neighbors, and, of course, you’ll make new friends. Which, in my opinion, is really the best way to learn a language.
When you first get to your new home try using CouchSurfing to organize a few nights out. Aside from being a website that helps you find a place to crash, CouchSurfing is a great place to meet new people in cities all over the world.
3. Find a good teacher and take some language lessons.
I’ve met a lot of people living in foreign cities who are trying to learn a language completely on their own. Some of them have been quite successful. The vast majority has not, and that is where a good teacher comes in.
Finding a good professor who understands the difficulties of their own language, and understands how to guide you through the learning process can be a bit challenging. Don’t commit to spending all your time with the first professor, or the first language school that you try out. It’s usually pretty easy to tell after two or three classes whether you have a good dynamic with your professor. If you don’t, then don’t try to fight it. Kindly explain this to your professor, and then go find a new one.
4. Do stuff in your new language every single day.
Yes, that is an incredibly vague statement, but learning a new language is pretty vague task when you consider everything that actually goes into learning a language.
There will probably be days when you are really tired, and don’t feel like putting in a ton of effort, and that’s OK. It is a long process so take days off from “All new language all the time” mode. Just make sure you do something for a few minutes, such as:
- Read a news article online, or read two or three pages of a book (Harry Potter was the first book I ever read in Spanish).
- Listen to a radio program or conversational podcast.
- Watch a movie in the language you are learning. (Tip: Set the subtitles to the language you are learning. Listening to the words while reading them is a great way to train your ear.)
- Review vocabulary lists (I like using online Spanish flashcards).
- Make up a short conversation between two people in your head as you go about your daily routine.
5. Get started before you leave.
Yes, you will probably be incredibly busy before your trip starts, but if you can still manage to find that 15 minutes a day to study the basics (alphabet, numbers, greetings, etc.) you will be amazed at how much it will help.
You have to learn the basics before you can really move on to start speaking a language, and it is just as easy to learn the basics at home. This means that once you get to wherever it is that you are going, you will not waste time trying to learn them. Instead you can start focusing on the really fun stuff, actually speaking a new language and forming bonds with people in that language.
Finally, I will add that the benefits of learning a new language are tremendous. In addition to adding a marketable skill to your repertoire, you will open yourself up to experiencing other cultures in ways that you probably would not otherwise. Languages are reflections of culture, and to understand a new language is to understand a new culture.