Happy New Year to you all! I hope you all have a healthy and happy year filled with fun and adventures.
So here we are in January. A month of possibility and new beginnings. The time to make resolutions that will make 2014 into the best possible year; to take the best of intentions and turn them into achievable goals. So while the desire to make the most of your opportunities is still strong in your mind, here’s the first in a short series of suggestions for resolutions that will improve your travel experiences no end.
#1. Learn a language.
Make your travel experiences more intriguing with the ability to communicate with people in their native tongue. Not being able to ask important questions can be frustrating, and as a solo traveller, not speaking the lingo can make for a lonely time. Imagine talking to the passenger next to you on a long bus ride, discovering cultural, political and social differences, and similarities. Becoming fluent in a language takes a great deal of time and effort, but it doesn’t have to be traumatic or take years.
Here are my 5 tips for success.
1. Do your homework. There’s no point starting classes when you have no understanding of the language at all. Knowing what you want to say, but not having the words can be intensely frustrating. A dictionary or grammar book at home will let you teach yourself the vocabulary you need to communicate.
You can buy your own books, but most libraries will have a selection of books and CDs covering popular languages, usually French, Italian, Spanish, Mandarin etc. My local library had a wide selection that even included options for Serbian, Danish, Urdu and Russian. Of course, it takes dedication to study with grammar books at home, but if you don’t have the desire to learn, you never will.
2. Listen more. Reading can become overwhelming, and is an impossible starting point if the language you want to learn uses a different writing system. Fluent writing needs a good grasp of grammar. Speaking depends on your self-confidence and a well-developed vocabulary. Listening can be hard when natives speak quickly, or with different dialects, but it is the communication skill that we use most in our daily lives.
Find music, podcasts, TV shows and movies in the language and listen as often as possible. You’ll start to recognise words you hear, giving you the tools and self-assurance to work on other areas, and feel like you’re making real progress with learning the language.
3. Travel for longer. A fortnight’s holiday spent between the beach and the hotel bar will never give you the best possibility to interact with locals, maximise your learning opportunity and accomplish your goal. Taking the time to immerse yourself in the language and culture, staying in hostels or arranging homestays, and working as you travel, will all help you learn faster. Travelling solo will also give you the impetus to spend more time with native-speakers and practice your skills.
4. Take a course. After trying out the first few steps, investing in a study programme is the next thing for a learner to try. At this stage you’ll have a little experience to draw on, and can use the time to address specific concerns you’ve found. You’ll have the chance to take control of your learning, and be more likely to have a positive experience than if you launch straight into a course at the beginning.
There are many language schools and course available, both at home or in a country where your language is spoken, or online. Your local adult learning centre is likely to offer classes in the most popular languages, and may even be able to put you in touch with a private tutor. Tuition will give you the chance refine pronunciation and improve your fluency.
5. Fall in love. Of course it’s a cliché, but falling for a native-speaker is the best way to perfect your language skills. Of course, some basic understanding is needed first, so don’t rush into anything, but whispered sweet nothings can help you grasp the subtleties of the language you’re learning. This advice came from a friend who discovered his name translated as “penis” in his adopted language. That’s devotion for you.