*This is a language learning collaborative post
Language learning is no easy task and if, like me, you're not a natural, you'll need as much help as you can get! Whether you're trying to learn Spanish, you're attempting French or you fancy your chances at Chinese – everyone needs a little extra help when trying to branch out from their mother tongue. If you're from the UK, it's easy to get caught up in this idea that because most people speak English around the world, we don't need to learn other languages. But after spending so many years working, living and travelling with people from all over the world, I can honestly tell you, you're missing out on a whole other world.
Speaking another language is about more than just bonjour-hola-hello, it's a whole new understanding of the world. It's an appreciation for another way of life and another way of thinking and seeing everything around you. When you visit a new place, language learning is a great way to connect with the locals and to gain a deeper understanding of the culture. Plus, if you've ever seen a local's face light up when you are able to chat with them during your holiday, you'll understand the value of a little extra effort.
How learning languages has helped my travels
My best travelling experiences have come from throwing myself into meeting the locals and heading out into the world on my own. I remember being in Thailand and being welcomed into an artist's house to meet his family and learn all about his work, all because I took the time to learn a little Thai and greet him as I walked past. Likewise, my struggles to speak Thai, but the fact I tried, also brought me together with a woman who practically adopted me as her daughter as she showed me around her town. When I moved to Germany, it was the hardest few months of my life until I picked up enough German to have conversations with people – you can read my post here on what it's really like to move to a country without speaking the language. I can't recommend at least trying to learn a language enough. It's not always the easiest, but not only is it an amazing skill, but it forces your brain to work in different ways. Here are my top ways to start language learning:
Language Learning Tandem Buddy
Once you've picked up the basics, practicing is so important but it can be tricky to find a buddy. Find a language tandem buddy and you'll pick up a language in no time, while helping them to learn your language! It's easy to find someone in a new city – check expat Facebook groups or visit the local university library where students may also be keen to join in. Either match up with someone who is also looking to learn the same language, or someone who perhaps wants to learn your language and do an exchange. You can also find language tandem buddies online through Facebook groups – that way you never even have to leave the house!
This is one of my favourite ways of learning, because it makes learning fun, interactive and convenient. When I moved to Germany, I downloaded Duolingo, Memrise and Babbel and started to use them daily on my morning and evening commute. It meant I was using the empty time and was engaging my brain before my day had even started. By starting early in the morning, it meant my brain was more receptive to the language and made me more likely to remember later in the day, and to feel inclined to use it. If you hate textbooks, this is perfect for you, learn through fun games and tests instead.
Learn Languages online
If your resolution for the year is to learn a language, but you want to do it from the comfort of your own home, why not try learning online? There are lots of online courses you can do which can help you develop your skills, testing you at different levels and fitting in with your lifestyle. Why not try Rosetta Stone, Fluent in 3 Months, Future Learn, or Learn Light.
Join Language School
If you're planning on spending longer in a country, perhaps you're moving abroad or planning to travel long-term, it might be worth signing up for language school. I had a lot of friends doing this in Germany and I'm thinking of doing it for my next big trip (can you guess what language I want to learn?). It's a great way to learn in a more formal setting, plus it offers a much better grip on grammar and business-level language which you might need for a new job or studies. If you can't spare the time for full-time language study, why not join a night course? My job in Germany actually offered classes at the office twice a week.
Chat To Locals
Learnt a bit of the local lingo and want to practise? There's no better way than getting out in a new place and speaking to the locals. Why not go out and ask for directions, or order food in a restaurant and challenge yourself to speak entirely in the local language. Not only will the locals appreciate your effort and probably love chatting back to you, but you'll get to experience a whole other side to travelling!
If you have a partner or family member who already speaks the language, why not try limiting yourself to speaking only that language at home. It doesn't matter how much you know of that language, when you force yourself to figure it out, it's amazing what you can muddle through. By putting yourself in a situation where you have no choice but to speak in the language, you're much more likely to remember it than by reciting fake conversations.
Listen and Watch
So many young people from other cultures learn English by watching movies, listening to music and podcasts from the UK and US, so why not do the opposite? Watch Spanish movies, listen to Italian music and find a podcast in whatever language you want to learn and listen to it everywhere. Listen and learn on your commute to work, during your lunch break, and last thing before you go to bed. Constant exposure is a great way to learn and getting used to hearing a language is just as important as speaking it.
What are your favourite ways to learn a new language? How many languages do you speak?