How to learn a language while traveling

September 1, 2017

I’ve noticed that in most parts of the world you can survive if you speak some English. On the other hand, after arriving to a new country, I’ve often found myself regretting that I didn’t spend even half an hour learning at least a few words in the local language.

However, if I have been able to speak the local language at least a little bit, I have noticed that I somehow get a lot more out of the trip. It is easier to get acquainted with local people, find more interesting places and better parties.

Even if there are only a few days left before your trip, that’s plenty of time to learn the most essential words. If you start from absolutely zero and there isn’t much time, skip the grammar and focus on learning a couple of the most useful words and phrases, such as:

  • Thank you! / No, thank you!
  • Could I have…
  • Water bottle
  • Numbers 1–10 (and depending on the local currency, maybe also some hundreds and thousands)
  • Delicious!
  • Where is the bathroom?
  • Do you speak English?
  • How much does this cost?

Pro tip: If you are traveling to a country that has a strong tradition of haggling, it is definitely a good idea to learn the phrase “Too expensive!”

When you are at the destination, try to avoid the worst tourist traps and find the beaches, restaurants, cafés and bars favored by the locals. In that kind of places, it is easy to start a conversation, for example by asking what the most popular dishes or drinks are.

You can also ask people “How do I say X in (the local language)?” The locals are usually pleased to see that you are interested in their language and culture and happy to help.

If conversation with a local still feels a bit intimidating, get started by talking to kids.

Children usually use very simple language, and they don’t get tired of repeating the same thing over and over again if you don’t get it the first (or the second) time.

If you have a little more time before the trip (at least a few weeks) and want to really impress yourself, your travel companions and the locals, I recommend trying out the WordDive Travel courses!

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