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Learning a language before travelling

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Have you learnt a new language recently? What strategies worked best for you?
6 years ago, April 5th 2013 No: 1 Msg: #168561  
B Posts: 1,298
I want to learn Spanish, and while browsing language apps for my phone, I began to wonder if learning a language through an app could actually work.

Ideally I would learn Spanish in Spain, in the old fashioned teacher-student face-to-face format...while sipping sangria and eating churros between classes.

Until that dream becomes a reality, what suggestions do you have for me or anyone wishing to learn a language primarily for travel purposes? Reply to this

6 years ago, April 5th 2013 No: 2 Msg: #168575  
When we backpacked around europe we were quite adamant we were going to speak in the relevant languages. My hubby had completed 5 years of french in high school so we started off ok, and having a european translation book as long as it was the basics 'table for 2 please', 'thank you', 'excuse me', 'wine', 'beer', 'chicken' we managed to get through france, spain and italy.

But turns out the 3 lanaguages are considerably similar and 3 months in our brains began to get confused - so by the time we got to germany which was not similar, and had many many more syllables, we gave up and went back to english. Luckily, germans are very good at other languages and everyone spoke english 😊.

I agree, living in a country would have to be the best way to learn the language, but i'm thinking if it is just for travelling, then the words you need to learn probably arent similar to what you'd learn in a school or on a course anyway. The new apps do look impressive though and when we head to france in july i'll be definitly taking one - although also taking the french inlaws so that will be our easy language translators 😊 Reply to this

6 years ago, April 5th 2013 No: 3 Msg: #168576  
I have tried to learn some basics of a few different languages before travelling. The most successful was definitely German, helps that my mum is German I suppose.

I haven't used aps for learning languages, but the best non-genetically linked language was Arabic. I used the Michel Thomas series of CDs. I purchased the beginner and advanced packs and placed them all of my MP3, and listened to them walking to and from work every day for a few months before I went - about 25 minutes in each direction.

The method does not teach you much vocabulary, but focuses on grammar and verbs. There were two quotes from the CDs I've listened to that were helpful.

“If you know how to handle verbs you know how to handle the language. Everything else is just vocabulary.” (This quote related to German where the verbs change frequently.)

“It is very important in order to express yourself in another language to have a sharpened awareness of your own language.”

Learning by this method is really slow, as you are not just repeating phrases, however, it enables you to go further once you start progressing. Michel Thomas does have aps for its language programs.

[Edited: 2013 Apr 05 11:18 - The Travel Camel:11053 ]
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6 years ago, April 5th 2013 No: 4 Msg: #168613  
B Posts: 1,298

In response to: Msg #168575

I already confuse the few Italian and Spanish words I know, so travelling to both countries in a short space of time would have completely un-done me! Looking forward to your blogs from France 😊 Reply to this

6 years ago, April 5th 2013 No: 5 Msg: #168616  
B Posts: 1,298

In response to: Msg #168576

I'm fairly sure the verbs in Spanish change too, so it makes sense to learn the verbs and grammar first - good tip - thanks!

I'm going to spend more time looking for apps this weekend, so will look out for the Michel Thomas one. My next post may be in Spanish 😉 Reply to this

6 years ago, April 6th 2013 No: 6 Msg: #168634  
Dave and I decided to take a Spanish class before going to Peru. He has had several years of French and languages come fairly easy for him. I had Spanish in high school but honestly I didn't learn much and remembered even less.

I took post it notes and put the spanish word for everything in the house. It help us learn a lot of vocabulary. It was fun if nothing else. We really didn't need many of those words while we traveled but a few of them ended up coming in handy.

We bought language tapes and listened to them in the car when we were driving.

In high school, my friend and I would go to a local Mexican restaurant weekly and talk to the owner in Spanish. He was helping us. That actually helped more than anything. We got to where we could have basic conversations with him.

I am much better at reading Spanish than speaking. Reply to this

6 years ago, April 8th 2013 No: 7 Msg: #168769  
B Posts: 1,464
Immersion (plus a concerted effort not to speak with fellow English speakers all the time) is the best route I've found, but when that's not an option...

The best software I ever used was Pimsleur (this was quite a few years ago, so I don't know if it's still good compared to competitors nowadays) to learn Portuguese. What I found most encouraging and entertaining was that I was actually speaking Portuguese sentences within a few days. Never cared much for Rosetta Stone.

Sometimes different software/apps excel at different languages, so you may want to do some research on what's the best app specifically for Spanish and, as there will be different dialects, probably go for the most generic sounding one, so you don't end up speaking Argentinean Spanish in Spain.

Besides that, I've bought small dictionaries and practice a language en route or even memorize some basic phrases (freely available online) before heading to a place.

The best choice, I think, if you're outgoing is to see if there's somebody who's willing to do language exchanges over coffee. That's usually rewarding for both parties and you get coffee and some immersion and possibly a new friend! If you're both new to it, you might want to create a general guideline - say, coffee-talk and icebreakers one day, transportation another, etc. for a set period of time and then exchange.

Good luck!!

p.s. I remember meeting an Australian couple who used the Google Translation app on their phone when traveling through Vietnam. It looks like it would be quite useful as long as you have an internet connection.
[Edited: 2013 Apr 08 20:34 - auspicious:163658 ]
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6 years ago, April 9th 2013 No: 8 Msg: #168777  
B Posts: 1,298
Thanks Merry and Michelle for your great ideas. I've downloaded a few free apps that provide a combination approach of flashcards (for everyday travel words), grammar and 'a word a day'. I thought it would be good way to figure out what works best; and even after only a day of using it I've realised that I prefer the ones that provide a combination of tests for word recognition and pronunciation at the end of each unit.

The plan is that Andrew and I would both try and learn at the same time, so we can practice together. I'm also planning on buying all our favourite Spanish films and turning the subtitles off 😊 Reply to this

6 years ago, April 9th 2013 No: 9 Msg: #168816  
Hi, I was going to say that watching movies and TV shows are a great way to immerse yourself. Watching the various language news channels on SBS have been a help. Reply to this

6 years ago, April 9th 2013 No: 10 Msg: #168858  
B Posts: 1,298

In response to: Msg #168816

Jane which language did you learn/are you learning? Reply to this

6 years ago, April 10th 2013 No: 11 Msg: #168888  
Hi Ren and Drew,
French and Japanese. Not very well, though! French at school and then since then I've used textbooks, kids books and SBS to keep it at a level that I can read and vaguely understand it spoken. With Japanese, I did a course in London many years ago and now that my daughter is studying it at primary school, I am getting back in to it. Plus, visiting there a few months ago has me keen to learn more of it. Would also love to learn Indonesian/Malaysian. Luckily there are many grants out there to become a teacher of an Asian language, so I'm thinking of applying for next year's intake. Reply to this

6 years ago, April 10th 2013 No: 12 Msg: #168913  
B Posts: 128
I started learning Spanish before I went to Guatemala around 6 years ago. I joined online Spanish classes, which doesn't sound promising but actually it was great. I used to download the podcast lessons and could listen in the car, or when I was walking to work. I also found a local class which was geared to travellers and did that. By far the best thing though was seeking out some native Spanish speakers and practising with them. I was terrible for ages, but now am not too bad. Still not fluent, but not useless. These days I listen to Spanish news in a podcast as I'm walking to work, try to watch some movies in Spanish (I can't understand them at all - they speak too fast, but I pretend this is homework!), and have lessons with a private tutor I found through a Spanish club in Sydney. It's worth checking out if there's a Spanish club nearby - even if you can't get there very often, you can make some great connections.

Buena suerte! Reply to this

6 years ago, April 11th 2013 No: 13 Msg: #169009  
I like good old fashioned flash cards 😊

I took three years of Spanish in high school and then a couple college courses last year. Those classes really help you get a grip on how the language works and conjugating verbs, etc.

Have any friends that speak Spanish or are there many immigrants in your area that know the language? Befriend one! Go grocery shopping together, run around the mall, have lunch at McDonalds with her. That will really really help you learn, plus you could make a great friend!

I know a lot of technical Spanish but sometimes a person's accent makes it unrecognizable to me. I've learned the most useful Spanish from Mexican friends (those Spaniards throw in the crazy lisp...so good luck with that lol).
[Edited: 2013 Apr 11 20:21 - Anastasia78:172650 ]

[Edited: 2013 Apr 11 20:23 - Anastasia78:172650 ]
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6 years ago, April 12th 2013 No: 14 Msg: #169015  
B Posts: 11.5K
I'm a huge fan of both immersion and language exchanges. Look for a cultural group in your local area and make contacts within the target language. Make use of your local library also.

Even if that's not logistically easy, there is a huge amount of resources out there in cyberspace. One I use is the 'NHK online' site - news videos with the script alongside. I watch the video first, then read the script, then go back to the video.

Find a skype buddy to do language exchanges with. Think in the target language during the day as you walk around - you'll be surprised how even the simplest sentences will help train your mind.

Always count in the target language. When I started, my counting excercise was to sit with a book and open it at a random page, then say whichever number page it was. Do it until you can say the numbers without thinking. (I am now probably slower when counting in English). Reply to this

6 years ago, April 12th 2013 No: 15 Msg: #169016  
B Posts: 1,298
Wow, all these fantastic tips! Thanks everyone.

I think the flashcard apps are working the best so far, probably because I'm predominantly a visual learner. I've only downloaded apps with either neutral or Castilian Spanish accents, so I am struggling with the 'th' sound a bit. But given I'm probably years away from stringing a sentence together, it's not an issue yet 😊

Jane let us know how you get on with learning either Indonesian or Malaysian! Reply to this

6 years ago, April 12th 2013 No: 16 Msg: #169060  
Hi Ren and Drew,
A friend at school was accepted into the Indonesian program this year and I am convinced that I should try out for it next year! Or maths... Reply to this

6 years ago, April 12th 2013 No: 17 Msg: #169077  
correct me if i'm wrong, but it would be fantastic (and extremely lazy) to have an app that you typed in what you wanted to say in your initial language, then it popped it out in sound in the language you wanted. So all we had to do was hold up our iphone/tablet etc and it would ask what we wanted. I thought this was what the apps were doing but perhaps i'm before my time lol! Reply to this

6 years ago, April 12th 2013 No: 18 Msg: #169081  
B Posts: 1,464

In response to: Msg #169077

I think that's pretty much what the Google Translate app does, except in writing. I wouldn't be surprised if they have or eventually add some voice feature to it.

I can see the appeal, but when I imagine traveling to a place and seeing travelers using such an app (say, even checking in or ordering food) and hearing the same electronic voice doing the talking, it's definitely got a creepy element to it as well. 😉 Reply to this

6 years ago, April 12th 2013 No: 19 Msg: #169085  
B Posts: 1,298

In response to: Msg #169081

Google Translate already has a sound feature, and I've seen people using it at restaurants...

I just read a blog where they used it to communicate with a doctor while travelling - which is fantastic (if you have wifi). Reply to this

6 years ago, April 13th 2013 No: 20 Msg: #169092  
oh yes, i think using an app to order food or even to find out what the food is, might lose the fun of the whole place. I'm fairly confident i ate pigs testicles in china due to ordering from pretty pictures lol!

But to talk to a doctor or argue that you already have paid your accomodation in advance, that sounds pretty useful 😊 Reply to this

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