Travel Tips

On Learning Another Language While Traveling

If you’ve traveled internationally, chances are you’ve encountered some language barriers from time to time. While some might find this to be frustrating, I find that I love the challenge of a language barrier. It’s one of the most exciting parts of travel. Of course, being an English speaker, I often find that my efforts to study up on a little bit of the local language before I travel are usually wasted as it seems every time I open my mouth and proudly announce, “Un verre de vin rouge, s’il vous plaît,” I am often answered with, “Certainly, Madame. I will be right back with your glass of red wine“. This is usually when my face drops and I become disappointed that I won’t get the opportunity to practice my French.

Of course, being an English speaking traveler does make things easy from time to time, as many people do understand at least some English, so getting around tends to be pretty easy. Still, I enjoy trying to learn as much of the local language as possible, and travel is a great opportunity to practice those language skills. I’m a bit of a language nerd anyway, and spend a significant amount of my free time when I’m not traveling listening to audio language lessons in Spanish and French.

That being said, even if you aren’t a language nerd like me, it can be fun to learn a bit of the local language at your destination. People usually appreciate it when you at least attempt to speak to them in their native language, and I find it to enrich my travel experiences.

Before you head out on an international journey to a country that speaks a different language than you, try picking up some vocabulary and phrases. There are a lot of great audio books, podcasts, and apps out there which will help you learn, and many of them are free.

  • One that I really like is the Coffee Break podcast series by Radiolingua (available for free through iTunes or on their website, and they have French, Spanish, German, and Italian available.
  • Duolingo is a mobile app that is both fun and great for learning languages. They have a lot of languages to choose from as well, so definitely check them out.
  • If you’re learning French, I’m a big fan of Learn French With Alexa.
  • If you’re looking to truly immerse yourself in a language, you might like Hellolingo, which allows users to interact with real native speakers of their language of choice via the internet.
  • Another useful and fun program is Busuu, which offers lessons in 12 different languages.

There are so many options out there, the possibilities are endless, and I’m sure there’s a program out there that suits your needs perfectly. You’ll enjoy arriving in your destination and navigating around using the native language, and you’ll especially love when a scene unfolds like it did for me in Italy:

I had just spent three weeks touring around Italy and I was at the airport in Rome waiting for my Aer Lingus flight to Dublin, Ireland. We had just cleared airport security and were quite hungry, so my husband watched our bags while I went off to order us some food. I found a sandwich cart and got in line. Behind me in line was most of our flight to Dublin, consisting of mostly an elderly Irish tour group. When I got to the front of the line, the following scene unfolded.

Me: Ciao! Due panini al formaggio e pomodoro e due bottiglie di acqua, per favore .
Sandwich Cart Worker: Certamente. Vuoi altro?
Me: No grazie. Questo è tutto.
Sandwich Cart Worker: Che sarà quattordici euro .
Me: Ecco qui.
Sandwich Cart Worker: Grazie. Ecco il tuo resto. Ecco i vostri panini.
Me: Grazie mille!
Sandwich Cart Worker: prego.
Elderly Irish Man Behind Me: Well, that was pretty impressive. Wait! Where are you going? We’re going to need you to stay here and order for all of us!

They all laughed, of course, and I laughed. It was a funny moment in time, but also a moment of triumph for me, as I had mastered enough Italian to successfully order and pay for two sandwiches and two bottles of water using the Italian language exclusively. It’s moments like that which make language learning fun. Try it!


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