Whether you’re planning a solo trip to Europe or a family vacation to Asia, you’ve likely wondered if it’s worth it to learn your destination country’s language. While the answer to that question is up to you, there are plenty of great reasons to learn a foreign language before traveling.
The Pros and Cons of Learning a Language Before Traveling
We feel that to learn a foreign language before traveling comes with more positives, but just to be sure we’re fair and balanced, we also want to examine the negatives of learning a language.
Here are the pros of learning a language before traveling:
- Knowing the language can make it easier to communicate. Even if you learn a few key phrases, locals appreciate the effort and are more likely to be helpful and welcoming.
- Learning a language can help you make your trip more meaningful. Immersing yourself in another language can provide a deeper understanding of a country’s culture.
- Knowing the country’s language helps you get around easier, make new connections, avoid cultural faux pas, and explore local spots that don’t typically cater to tourists.
Here are the cons of learning a language before traveling:
- Learning a language can be a lot of work and can take time away from travel plans.
- The language you learn may not be useful after your trip, so you’ll lose the skill.
- It can be difficult to become fluent in a language in a short period of time.
While these negatives may seem significant, you can reduce common language learning problems if you’re taught the right way. In our next section, we’ll show you how to do just that.
How to Learn a Language Before Traveling
There isn’t a wrong way to learn a language, but you can be more efficient if you use the right techniques. Here are 5 things you can do to learn a foreign language quickly before traveling.
1. Talk to a Native Speaker
Start practicing with a native speaker as soon as you plan to learn a language. If you’re learning French, for example, you should take French conversation classes via Lingoda courses or find a French-speaking partner in person. Both methods can help you feel comfortable speaking.
Too often, learners will start with grammar courses and be too scared to speak. If you train your voice from the beginning, you’re less likely to trip up when communicating with strangers. You’ll probably make many pronunciation mistakes at first, but that’s part of the learning process.
2. Download Language Apps
You may not always have the time to sit in for a full language class, but you should have 5 minutes here and there to practice. Language apps can be a great substitute on a busy day or when you’re experiencing a long commute. Just put in your headphones and do a lesson.
There are plenty of language apps you can try. Some popular ones include Duolingo and Babbel, and we recommend experimenting with different ones until you find what works. Look for an app that uses gamification, as it’ll help you tie achievements to your language learning.
3. Consume Foreign Media
Training your ear is just as important as fixing your pronunciation, as you need to understand and respond in real time. By consuming foreign media, you’re training your ear to recognize sounds and inflections that aren’t familiar. You can even respond to practice speaking.
Podcasts are one of the best forms of multimedia language learning materials, as they eliminate distractions that could misconstrue the meaning of a sentence, such as body language. With that said, movies, video games, and books are other types of media that can help you learn.
4. Cram on the Airplane
If you’re really pressed for time, you can still cram on the plane. Spending a few hours learning a language is better than nothing, and you probably won’t have anything else to do. If you’re stuck in a plane anyway, you might as well use that time to improve your travel experience.
According to Oxford Learning, cramming is useless in the long term, but that really isn’t a problem if you’re learning a language you won’t use after your vacation. However, if you want to retain any language you learn for your trips, you have to start studying months in advance.
5. Set Realistic Expectations
Don’t expect to be an expert in the German language if you’re leaving for Germany in under a week. Not only that, but the amount of time it takes for you to learn a language depends on your native language, which language group you’re trying to learn, and the level of fluency you need.
For example, it will take an English speaker 600-700 hours to learn a Category I language (French, Italian, Spanish) and 2200 hours to learn a Category IV language (Chinese, Swahili, Malay). Make sure you set realistic expectations and appropriate goals to avoid disappointment.