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!

August Flanagan, co-founder of Lenguajero.com, a startup that helps people practice conversational Spanish, has 5 tips on how to make it happen.

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.

Other comments

11 Comments on "What to Do: Learn a Language"

  1. Alonna on Mon, 7th Dec 2009 5:21 pm 

    Good tips. I’m currently planning a 3-week Spanish study, hopefully in Eucaudor this January. I tried out the flashcards from lenguajero, they’re great! (although it confirmed that my Spanish is a bit rusty)

  2. Andi on Tue, 8th Dec 2009 9:14 am 

    All fantastic points!!! I’m trying to learn spanish as well. Que idioma bonito! 🙂

  3. Andi on Tue, 8th Dec 2009 9:16 am 

    All fantastic points!!! I’m trying to learn spanish as well and can’t take a career break, so I try to pretend I’m in a spanish speaking country and surround myself with people who speak spanish. Que idioma bonito! 🙂

  4. Tweets that mention What to Do: Learn a Language | Briefcase to Backpack - Travel Advice for Career Breaks or Sabbaticals -- Topsy.com on Tue, 8th Dec 2009 4:40 pm 

    […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Sherry Ott, BriefcasetoBackpack. BriefcasetoBackpack said: Ever wanted to learn a foreign #language? A #careerbreak is a perfect time to do so. Learn 5 tips to make it happen http://bit.ly/6BUPvt […]

  5. Barabra @ Hole In The Donut Travels on Wed, 9th Dec 2009 11:28 am 

    Excellent tips! I always try to learn at least the basic phrases in a foreign language before I leave and with the Internet there are even sites that have audio files that you can listen to for the pronunciation and accent.

  6. Mark H on Wed, 9th Dec 2009 2:57 pm 

    Some really practical tips. I think combining listening and reading takes you a long way towards learning the language as it targets two senses at once.

  7. brian | No Debt World Travel on Thu, 10th Dec 2009 11:15 pm 

    Total immersion is the key to learning the language. Lots of free podcasts for learning whether traveling around the world or staying in a place for long period of time. I like Pimsleur myself for prep before you get there.

  8. Living In Paris on Fri, 11th Dec 2009 4:04 pm 

    I think formal lessons are essential for laying the foundation, and from there you can augment with all the other great stuff you mentioned (movies, articles, radio, etc.) Also, I find that listening to French songs helps me to stop translating and just “know” what’s being said/sung.

  9. Michaela Potter on Fri, 11th Dec 2009 5:34 pm 

    Thanks for all the great feedback and tips on this post! August is currently off the grid on a remote island in Mexico (poor guy), but I’m sure he’ll appreciate your comments!

    Alonna – Can’t wait to hear where your travels take you in South America! Anywhere you choose will be a great place to learn Spanish.

    Andi – You definitely don’t have to be on a career break to learn a language. Surrounding yourself with those that speak the language you want to learn (whether at home or abroad) is a great way to practice.

    Barbara – I also like to learn a few phrases in a language before going anywhere. Even if it’s just hello, thank you, and good bye, I find the people I meet are extremely appreciative of my efforts plus it’s very respectful.

    Mark – I am a very visual person so I’m much better at reading a language, but struggle with hearing & comprehending. I like to download podcasts with language phrases so I can get used to how it sounds.

    Brian – I have to check out Pimsleur! Thanks for the tip.

    Living in Paris – I also like to listen to Spanish songs and translate what they are singing. Juanes is a great guy to listen and learn from as his music is played in many Spanish countries!

  10. Travelogged on Sun, 13th Dec 2009 7:38 pm 

    Great tips! I really hope to spend some time learning Spanish one day…

  11. Angela Petitt on Mon, 21st Dec 2009 1:26 pm 

    Great tips! I am on a new sabbatical and have been researching places to learn Spanish and digital photography. Thanks for the ideas.

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