5 Travel Tips for Language Learners

Everyone knows it’s easier to learn when you are in the environment where your language is spoken. Not only are you more motivated to communicate with the locals, but you are surrounded by newspapers, signs, t-shirts– target language text in abundance! Context is key and there’s more than enough new vocabulary for the taking. But target language input still needs to be rendered comprehensible.

So how can you make the most out of a trip abroad to boost your language skills? Check out these fun tips for travelers and bring home some new words and phrases along with the souvenirs.

1. Order from Bilingual Menus- Food is one of the most enjoyable categories of vocabulary to master. After all, what could be easier than eating your way to fluency? Make sure you avoid the “English Speakers” menu at all costs and if you do get a copy, try and compare it to the target language version so you can guess the meaning of new foods. Remember, local specialities will often be featured on the menu boards at more than one restaurant. Arm yourself with a mobile dictionary and shop around for the right breakfast, lunch and dinner, taking note of common menu items. Create flashcards for the new dishes with a learning platform and pick up a few take-away menus to jog your memory when you return home!

2. Take Snapshots of Signs- There’s always so much to see when you are traveling to a new place. But don’t just photograph the monuments and scenery– take shots of the signs and banners too! From shop windows advertising products and sales, to open markets and the most common phrases for Exit, Entrance and Bathroom– you will find it is easier to understand what signs are telling you when you are in the local environment and have access to contextual clues. Also, try to say what you see out-loud. Ask locals if you are having trouble and note how they pronounce the words. Remember to do your best to guess at a sign’s meaning but take a picture so you can double-check your understanding when you get home.

3. Browse Comic Books and Magazines-  Many comic strips and magazines have international versions. If you typically read National Geographic or even something light like Tom and Jerry, you are more likely to pick up on the new language as characters, themes and columns will already be familiar to you. This gives you an edge when it comes to guessing the meaning of novel vocabulary. It also helps your brain to have colorful and descriptive images which provide visual cues. So stop by a news-stand and gather some light reading material when you first arrive. It’s the perfect way to pass time on busses and trains. PS. This type of material fits easily into your suitcase for further study when the trip is over!

4. Study the Labels– Everything from your water bottle, to condiment jars, and shampoo and conditioner will have a label. Pay attention to imperative verbs encouraging you to use or try the product and descriptive adjectives which illustrate its benefits. You probably already know what a product does and what it does and doesn’t contain– or at least you can take a good guess! Use this prior knowledge to decode ingredients and slogans. Look terms up in a dictionary and create flashcards to help you learn and remember the new terms. You never know what novel and intriguing language you will find!

5. Travel like a Local- Monuments and tourist towns typically offer guides, maps and brochures in a number of languages, including the local tongue. Take advantage of the parallel texts to pick up brochures in both your native and target language. Read about the place you are visiting in English and then go off and do a tour. When you have finished, sit yourself down in a coffee shop or cafe and go through the local language tourist brochure. You will already know what is being described, which makes it easier to guess what new words mean. An added bonus is when locals ask you what you liked about their hometown, you’ll know just how to talk about points of interest without resorting to translations or pointing at an image in your guidebook!

Remember that being in a new place not only enhances your access to language but also helps to strengthen your existing vocabulary. For example, you may learn new ways of using a word or encounter an unfamiliar meaning for a familiar term. Prepare for you trip by ensuring you have the dictionary, flashcard and learning  tools you need to look words up and remember them And above all, interact with native speakers as much as you can while you are abroad. Travel communities like Couchsurfing.org are a great place to start as they often have meet-ups in central places and forums with helpful hints that only a local would know.   

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