How to Master a New Language

There is such a quiet empowerment in wandering a new country, stopping to browse a roadside market and having a conversation with the local shop-keeper in their native language. Unfortunately it's a freedom that too few of us experience when travelling. There are few countries we can travel to nowadays where we can't rely on our English to get by, but it means we're missing the opportunity to really delve deep into a culture and connect with the local people, and really, isn't that what we look for in travel? Here are a few tips to help master a new language, or at least learn the key phrases..

  1. Don't be scared of making mistakes: One of the biggest things that stops a lot of people from trying to learn a new language in the first place is fear that they'll make mistakes or fail. A willingness to make mistakes and accept imperfection is what will allow you to master something in the end. Remember that you don't need to be perfect either; in many cases just understanding some simple words and phrases will still allow you to hold a conversation with a local. It's quite amazing actually how just a few words and a lot of hand gestures can facilitate a genuine connection. You may also find that many people in other countries are just as keen to learn English, so you can both stumble through the trickiness together.
     
  2. Find someone to learn with: Getting someone else on board will motivate you to stick with it, plus you'll have someone to practice with.
     
  3. Give yourself a goal: It can be difficult to learn a new skill without set goals and milestones in place to work towards. So set yourself up with simple, attainable goals that aren't overwhelming. Maybe begin with 10 words in a week, or 50 words before you leave for your trip.
     
  4. Listen, really listen: Find a movie, audiobook or language course in the language you're trying to learn and actively listen to each word, each sound. Repeat words back as you hear them, take note of words that stand out or words you begin to recognise. The more you expose yourself to something the more familiar it becomes, so surround yourself with the language.
     
  5. Take note of grammar: Not all languages use grammar in the same way. Look at the structure of the language; how do they ask questions, how is past and present tense referred to, how are affirmative or negative statements shown?
     
  6. Use technology: There are some great apps and websites out there to help learn a new language, embrace them. Duolingo, Anki, HelloTalk, Mindsnacks and Memrise are just a few of the many available that can connect you with native speakers to practice with, while also providing plenty of tips on vocabulary, grammar and pronunciation.
     
  7. Make it ordinary: The more you use a foreign language in your daily life, the quicker your brain will learn and remember those words. Use every opportunity to be exposed to the new language, when you're using objects in your home refer to them in that language, when replying to a friends message, try to craft the response in your mind in the new language.
     
  8. Throw yourself in the deep end: One of the most tried and tested tricks to mastering a new language will always be to simply immerse yourself in the language. Equip yourself with the basics before your trip, but as soon as you arrive leave your English at the door and throw yourself all in. Order your coffee in the language, greet the hotel staff in their native tongue - it will become natural far more quickly than you could have expected.
     

If you're not able to really delve into a language, you will still get a lot out of making an effort to learn the key words and phrases of that country. Not only will it make your experience much easier and more enjoyable, but it also shows a great deal of respect to the locals, and you'll find you're able to have much more genuine connections and conversations, and isn't that one of the best parts of travelling?


Image by Sophie Matterson.

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