7 Tips for Learning Foreign Languages on the Road

I am not a linguist, so when people find out that I am conversant in five foreign languages (French, Estonian, Czech, Russian, and Spanish) – most of which I’ve picked up on the fly instead of through formal study – they often ask me how I do it.

I don’t have a “get rich quick” secret for learning how to speak a new language. It can be challenging, humbling, and frustrating. So why do it?

Abasto Market Lesson - Asuncion, Paraguay
Practicing my Spanish in the market in Asuncion, Paraguay.

For me, learning a foreign language is a gateway, an enabler to communication, connection and learning. Speaking someone’s language establishes rapport and it often opens surprise doors of experience. And for travelers, speaking a foreign language serves a practical purpose: it can ease finding the right bus or the nearest bathroom, and it can get you out of sticky situations.

For those of you who’ve asked how I pick up languages, here’s how.

7 Tips for Learning Foreign Languages While Traveling

1) Take some lessons

This may sound contradictory considering I just told you that I’ve acquired most of my language skills from in-the-trenches use instead of formal study. However, having a basic appreciation of the structure, grammar, verbs and pronunciation rules of a language helps build a foundation.

If you are looking for language schools, search for a program that focuses on the practical with an emphasis on conversation. If possible, choose a school with a host family program and be clear that you would like a host family interested in actively speaking with its guests (this is not always the case).

Alternatively, download a few podcasts or audio programs so that your ear becomes attuned to hearing the language. This way, the language doesn’t sound so foreign once you hit the ground.

In any case, be disciplined about your language study. Take your classes seriously, do your homework and try to use your new language skills outside the classroom as much as possible.

My experience: Dan and I took only two weeks of Spanish lessons in Xela, Guatemala. Although we wish we had taken more classes, our instruction provided us with a base from which we could expand our skills by speaking with people on the street. Throughout our travels in Latin America, people we spoke to were often shocked to find out how little formal training we had.

2) Seek out destinations and locations where no one speaks your language

Necessity, they say, is the mother of invention. And when it comes to foreign languages, necessity must be the single greatest motivator for learning how to communicate.

We’ve met many people who have come away from language classes disappointed with their abilities; they blame it on the fact that they are “bad at languages.” True, some people do have an easier time at languages, but often the real reason is that the person has only exercised their skills in the classroom.

Perhaps this is obvious, but hostels where everyone speaks your language are not foreign language learning environments. Head out and buy your lunch at the market where there is no English menu, scope out transport tickets at the bus station instead of buying them through an English-speaking travel agent, spend time in small towns or rural areas where you have no other choice but to speak the language.

Getting a Sample - Cuenca, Ecuador
Learning a language by trying new things at the market. Cuenca, Ecuador.

The more you do this, the more you’ll surprise yourself with your own abilities.

My experience: When considering study abroad programs in France, I deliberately chose to study outside of Paris and to stay with a host family. While it’s obviously possible to learn French in Paris, I also appreciated that the temptation to speak English there would be much greater than in a smaller city. So I chose Toulouse and stayed with an incredible family who didn’t speak any English with me (I only found out 6 weeks in that my host sister understood some English). I came away fluent after four months.

As for my friends who chose to study in Paris, they enjoyed it, but they found a lot of foreigners and many gave into the temptation of speaking English. As a result, they didn’t fare so well on the foreign language acquisition front.

3) Listen actively and mimic

Active listening is hard work; it requires concentration. Sustained listening for long periods of time can leave you absolutely drained.

However, I believe active listening is essential to learning a foreign language. When you listen closely, you begin to notice bits of vocabulary, phrases and repeated patterns. Once you recognize familiar words, you can try them out for yourself. (Having a dictionary handy to consult and confirm what you believe you are hearing also helps.)

One technique I employ, without even thinking about it, is mimicry or reflection of what I’ve heard. Aside from providing mental reinforcement for various phrases, it also helps to communicate that I’ve heard — and hopefully understood — what the other person said.

My experience: It was 2 AM in the mountains of Kyrgyzstan. I was stuck in the back seat of a shared taxi with a Russian-speaking Kyrgyz man who was very excited to share with me the virtues of the kalpak, the Kyrgyz national hat (this was a welcome change from the previous discussion of Russian vs. American capitalism).

Road Stop, Eating Mutton - Bishkek to Osh, Kyrgyzstan
Dinner with the driver and fellow passengers before car broke down in the Kyrgyz mountains at 2 AM.

As you might imagine, my Russian hat vocabulary wasn’t stellar, so I repeated back to him some of the key words he was using to both fix them in my head and to let him know I was listening. I’m not sure that I agree that the kalpak is the most perfectly designed hat in the world, but I did pick up some new vocabulary that night.

4) Get out there, with humility and inhibition in equal doses

Childrens’ brains are wired to rapidly acquire languages. Unfortunately, we adults can do little to recapture that facet of our youth.

Until their minds become polluted with adult inhibitions, children also have few qualms about exposing what they don’t know. In this way, they are relatively uninhibited, unafraid to put themselves out there and make mistakes. On the other hand, we adults often mask our weaknesses and imperfections by not even trying.

Behavior – that’s something we can change.

If my experience is any measure, you will never learn a language by trying to perfect it first in the comfort of your home. You must go out, use it, make mistakes, learn from it all, then try again. Mistakes will slowly yield to understanding, and understanding will itself yield confidence.

My experience: When I was a Peace Corps volunteer in Estonia, none of my office-mates spoke English. Twice a day, everyone gathered together for coffee and chatted. At first, I would sit and drink my coffee in silence, self-conscious of my poor Estonian skills. But that was no fun. So I began inserting myself whenever I figured out the context or recognized a word or two. Over time, the topics on which I could comment expanded considerably to the point of fluency. I’m sure my colleagues still laugh at some of the silly things I said in those early days.

I gave them good laughs, but they gave me Estonian.

5) Learn to speak simply, like a child

As adults, we are accustomed to having an arsenal of vocabulary to express ourselves articulately. In contrast, when learning a new language, you only have a limited amount of constructs, vocabulary and verbs to get your point across.

Channel your inner child and speak and ask questions with as few, simple words as possible. Get your mind out of the dozens-of-verb-tenses mindset. Be careful of slang. Remember: the goal is to communicate. There’s something weirdly refreshing about speaking simply. Over time, your language skills will play tricks on you and the childlike words you began with will be balanced by the more sophisticated ideas you were hoping to communicate all along.

Girl Selling Postcards at Banteay Kdei - Angkor, Cambodia
A Cambodian girl at Siem Reap counts to ten…in six different languages.

My experience: At a Prague farmer’s market the other day, my Czech escaped me and only Spanish words came to mind when I tried to communicate with a flower vendor. I couldn’t remember the Czech word for “closed,” but I did remember the word for “open.” So I explained that I wanted flowers “more not open.” The vendor shot me some odd looks, but then she nodded and smiled — and I got the kind of “not open” flowers I wanted. Of course, walking away I finally remembered the Czech word for “closed.”

6) Even if your native language is spoken, resist using it

You’ve landed in a heavily touristed area where travel agents, hotel owners and wait staff speak English. Although this may sound great, resist the urge to speak English. You may be surprised by how many people actually hang with you if you persist.

My experience: A tour operator in Cusco, Peru almost jumped over her desk and gave us a hug when we asked her questions in Spanish and told her we’d like to continue our transaction in Spanish. In addition to providing tour information, she gave us recommendations for markets, restaurants and villages to visit nearby. Our transaction turned to regular conversation, and more importantly, we were no longer walking dollar bills.

Note: If you are conducting a transaction in a foreign language and are confused about the terms, switch to your own language to confirm the details.

Also, sometimes locals want to speak your language because they are interested in improving their own language skills. In these situations, propose a language exchange or 50-50 compromise so both parties can benefit.

7) Have a drink

I don’t wish to promote the consumption of alcohol here and I’m certainly not going to advocate getting sloshed. But, if your inhibitions are getting the better of you, consider going out and having a glass of wine or beer in a local joint. After all, alcohol is a social lubricant. It may make you less self-conscious of your mistakes and more outgoing in approaching other people for conversation.

Drinking with the Police - Svaneti, Georgia
Dan drinks with the police in Ushguli, Svaneti (Republic of Georgia) for good measure.

If you don’t drink alcohol, find something to relax and seek out locals at a café or teahouse.

My experience: During our hike across the Svaneti region in the high Caucasus mountain range in the Republic of Georgia, our evenings were filled with non-stop eating and drinking. With the help of local moonshine, conversation flowed from topic to topic. Although my Russian skills were quite limited in those early days, I still managed to communicate in Russian for hours and hours on end.

—–

What are your tips for learning foreign languages, either at home or on the road?

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Comments

  1. Jennie says

    Great suggestions! I also think people get blocked when they try to understand every single word in a sentence. Sometimes you have to go with the one or two or three words you understand, along with the context you’re in and just go with the flow. :)

  2. says

    Excellent suggestions. We have had lots of great language learning advice from Benny at http://www.fluentin3months.com/ and he gives similar advice – study less and talk more.

    Sometimes stopping people talking to you in English can be the hardest thing, especially if you don’t feel that confident in the language. Our Spanish improved in Paraguay as we didn’t meet any locals who spoke English.

  3. says

    @Natalie: Learning a few words like “hello” and “thank you” do go a long way. We’ve also found that if you learn an odd word, that can really warm people up. For example, one of the only words of Georgian we learned was the word “gigari” which meant heart or soul. The reactions when we said this were priceless.

    @Jennie: Excellent, excellent tip. I completely agree that sometimes people get blocked or give up if they don’t understand every word. But many times you can still follow the context and conversation even if you don’t understand every thing 100%.

    @Erin: I haven’t read Benny’s ebook, but I’m not surprised that my approach is similar to his. The whole idea is to go out and talk with people. When I get self-conscious about my language skills, I think about how I react when other people speak English with me. I really want to help them and will be very patient and try to make sense of what they are saying. I think you’ll find others will do the same for you.

    I have a feeling that your Spanish will improve as you go through Bolivia and Peru. Ours went into decline when we got to Argentina because we were meeting more English speakers and were working a lot so we weren’t interacting on the street all the time.

    @Agne: Good luck with your French lessons! If you’re English skills are any indication, I’m sure you’ll pick up French quickly as well. Try to find a French friend you can practice the language with after class so that it stays active in your mind.

  4. says

    I am a lover of languages and I really enjoyed this post.

    My favorite teacher ever was my 11th grade French teacher. He spoke to us in a total immersion environment, and on the first day, I remember feeling totally lost, even though I was an overachiever in French class up until then. But by the end of the year, our skills were LEAPS and BOUNDS ahead of where they originally were. Great, great teacher.

    As far as the “have a drink” tip goes, I remember when studying abroad in Florence, after a few drinks half of us lost our Italian language skills and the other half became fluent. I was thankfully one of the latter, with French as well as Italian! I think it’s an inhibitions thing.

  5. says

    Great tips!! As Erin said a lot of the advice mirrors my own :) Totally agree with points 1-6! For 7 I was happy to see the café alternative! I don’t ever drink (alcohol) but get loads of practise over an espresso :)

  6. Garry says

    Good tips. Humility (#4) is the most important.

    More tactically, when abroad I keep a small index card with me at all times with the words I want to learn and practice that day. Usually it starts with the conventional things like hello/goodbye, please/thank you, left/right, stop/go, how much, numbers 1 to 20, and other basic stuff. Build every day from there.

    It works for me, in a week or two I can get around pretty well.

  7. says

    Thanks for the good tips. They all make good sense when you think about it :)

    I definitely need all the help I can get. I can’t learn languages at all. Hell, I’m impressed I can still speak english at a serviceable level.

  8. says

    Focusing on speaking simply is a great piece of advice. I’ve always told myself I’d rather be fluent in basic spanish than basic in intermediate spanish (if that makes any sense).

    Also, whenever I’m at home or don’t have an opportunity to practice a foreign language, I tend to have conversations in my head in order to make sure I don’t forget words and grammar. I’ll often just sit there for 20 minutes creating some ridiculous talk between two random people, but it seems to keep the language fresh in my mind!

  9. says

    Great tips. I started learning Spanish in the trenches in Mexico and then finally took formal classes and stayed with a family.

    As much as possible I ask people to speak to me in Spanish, and also to correct me. But sometimes I end up in a hostel where everyone speaks English and it can be difficult as it’s use it or lose it.

  10. says

    @Kate: Although it can be really tough and frustrating at first, having a good teacher who only speaks in a foreign language is not just about picking up vocabulary, grammar and verbs. More importantly, this approach teaches you how to function in that foreign language.

    I guess alcohol can have the opposite effect and cause people to forget languages…but we always fall into the other category too.

    @Benny: Yes, espressos or tea will do the same trick as having a beer at a bar. The goal is to be out in place where can engage easily with locals and talk. Good luck with Hungarian.

    @Garry: Thanks for the great tip! I find writing down words I want to learn really helps me to remember them as well. Sounds like you’ve got a great system going.

    @Shawn: Nope, there’s nothing rocket science about any of this. It’s all about putting yourself out there, practicing, making a fool of yourself, practicing some more and eventually improving fluency.

    @Earl: I completely get what you’re saying about wanting to be fluent in simple Spanish instead of basic in intermediate Spanish. When we spent time with my mother’s relatives in La Falda (near Cordoba), no one spoke English and we were asked many questions about what we were doing and how we earn money and the website. It was a good challenge for me to describe our lives in simple terms in Spanish. I realized that I could improve the clarity and simplicity of my usual answers in English.

    @Ayngelina: I added in the comment about hostels not being good language learning environments for that exact reason. We had the same experience when we stayed in hostels throughout Argentine and Chilean Patagonia – our Spanish language skills deteriorated because English was the common language of the hostel. You’re right – if you don’t use it you’ll lose it.

  11. says

    Hi Audrey, these are great tips! Trying to immerse yourself and get out and speak are definitely key. Since my husband and I are learning Spanish in the US, we have a tutor come to the house weekly. We rarely speak English unless we are translating something we just read. This works so much better than the traditional class we took where our professor spoke English 95% of the time (and she’s Columbian!)

  12. says

    Thanks for the tips! I managed to get conversational in Turkish after living there for 5 months! It definitely helps you learn a language fast if you can really immerse yourself in it and just keep using it! Besides, it provides the natives a pleasant shock to see someone foreign speaking their language! Instant ice-breaker! And it definitely came in handy for when you want to haggle at the bazaars and markets!

  13. says

    Awesome tips!!! It’s so hard to not want to lapse into your native language when you get frustrated, but it’s a must to not do it!

  14. says

    The biggest piece of advice I have is to recognize that you will sound like a foreigner and that’s ok. Instead of being embarrassed by your imperfect accent you should just do your best to communicate with the skills you have. The more comfortable you become the more people will appreciate your effort. As soon as I tried to stop sounding like a local I would get endless compliments on how good my language skills were. It was flattering and inspiring.

    I also love your story about the more not open flowers. I think the vocab creativity that less-than-fluency requires is so much fun. I just told a nearby rock climber the other day to be careful of the “house of the bees” nearby to where we was climbing. I got a funny look then a big laugh and made a new friend.

  15. says

    Good, practical tips. I always scoff at the notion that someone can learn a language by sitting at home, using some sort of CD set and becoming “fluent”. You simply need to talk to people, make a lot of mistakes, and repeat. I’ve taken to carrying around a little notebook, then asking people what the name of something is, then writing it down so that I can remember it for later. When people see this, they inevitably repeat the word for me and make sure that I pronounce it right.

  16. says

    @Jennifer: I’m so glad that you were able to find a teacher who speaks almost exclusively with you in Spanish. Since you’re in Texas, you should have ample opportunity to practice I imagine.

    @Connie: Fluent in Turkish in 5 months – that’s pretty great! Dan was able to learn the numbers in Turkish when we visited a decade ago and even that helped in bargaining in the markets. People also loved it, too.

    @Andi: It does take discipline to keep going in the foreign language when you get frustrated, but over time you work through that and less stuff frustrates you. I also find that when I’m with people who speak the language better than me, I rely on them to do the talking for me and become lazy. So, going out on your own or in small groups helps a lot.

    @Briana: Yes, great advice. I have some speech issues (i.e., I can’t roll my r’s) that mean that I’ll never sound native in Estonian or Spanish. But, that doesn’t mean that I can’t communicate in those languages. As you said, people appreciate your effort and want to make you succeed in learning their language better.

    Speaking simply is akin to a word game for me. How can I get my point across about a topic that I don’t know the words for by using other words that have a connection. When you translate back into English it can sometimes be quite fun and insightful.

  17. says

    @Kyle: Completely agree. You have to go out and speak, make a fool of yourself, laugh and start all over again. Good advice with the notebook. I did that quite a bit in markets in Latin America and would spell things phonetically (for me) and it was funny to see vendors come over and correct my spelling to be sure I was able to write it correctly in addition to saying it. It shows that you’re serious about learning.

    How’s the Thai going? I haven’t attempted a tonal language yet and have to admit I’m a bit intimidated by them.

  18. says

    Audrey I have to say I really like you and Daniels post on ‘personal growth’ and this one on language is brilliant! :)

    My second camping trip in the Sahara, myself and a group of work colleagues went without an Arabic speaker. Our guides and drivers, didn’t speak English. However and one point during the long drive through the dunes me and a driver had good conversation on life, family, using only my limited Arabic vocab and his limited English vocab and as always as much hand gestures as possible.

    In Turkey the Gypsy kids I was working with would write phrases in my notebook for me to learn. I can still count in Turkish because of them :)

    My advice is the same as yours, the best way to learn a language is to be thrown in the deep end and learn the hard, by listening and mimicking!

    And yes alcohol helps lower language inhibitions… I tend to be fluent in conversational Spanish when sufficiently inebriated :)

    And an attempt to speak the language of the country you are in, will almost always warm people to you. That has been my experience, especially here in Libya, with my limited Arabic.

    Great Stuff, Cheers

  19. says

    I love the tip for sharing a drink – that’s definitely how I got my Spanish from the really practical words and language to more fluency with phrases, slang, and just rounded it all out.

    The only thing I would add is have fun with it. One of my favorite things I read on your site actually was that you had your Spanish teacher give you a cooking class during your lesson! It’s definitely a lot of fun if you combine learning a language with other things you’re passionate about..plus you learn the niche lingo you might actually really want at some point :-)

  20. says

    Great tips (as usual). I particularly like number 5. One of the most important things to wrap your head around is the fact that you will not be able to construct sophisticated sentences for quite a while. It’s a matter of finding the crux of the idea and getting that out however you can.
    Along with this it is essential to stop taking oneself too seriously. We will say dumb things. But if we set pride aside and pay attention, we can learn a lot from them!

  21. says

    Throwing yourself out there and using even the few words you know can really help propel you into learning quickly. As you mention in #4, think like a child. They are such wonderful learners, us adults could learn a lot from them!

  22. Sirje Ehrenpreis says

    Dear Audrey,
    Thank you for your wonderful foreign language lerning tips. I’ll use it as a tool and encouragement with my students- never give üp hope, even if you think you are poor at languages- enjoy what you are doing! I totally agree.I wanted to thank you so much because you are my very important teacher of English-not the academic one- I really miss our chats.
    Speaking of children, when my daughter was little and coudn’t speak any foreign languges at all, they invented with our German friend’s daughter a language of different sounds- like singing without words and looking at them I had a feeling that they understood each other. The most important thing is to want.

  23. says

    @Tony: So glad you enjoyed our latest segment in the personal growth series. It is pretty amazing how much can get communicated with very little words but with a will to communicate. Similar to your story in the Sahara, I remember talking in very basic Russian to a grandmother in Georgia about how she was taking care her grandkids because her daughter was working in the States and she never saw her. Even though my Russian was really poor at the time, I could feel her pain and understand what she was going through.

    Getting thrown into the deep end can be draining and tiring, but you usually come out on the other side with more language and life skills.

    @Shannon: Great reminder that doing fun stuff should be an integral part of the process. For us, the combination of language study with food is perfect because we always have endless questions about it – that’s why the cooking class with our Spanish teachers in Guatemala was so great. Thanks for the reminder – perhaps there should be a “part 2″ of this article with reader’s suggestions.

    @Margaret: I think the advice of not taking ourselves so seriously applies to a lot of areas in life! But it’s so true for language learning. It’s usually those funny mistakes that cause the best learning opportunities because the event sticks in your mind. And, there’s often a fun connection with that person as well that you can laugh about for many years to come. I can’t even tell you how many times I’ve made a fool of myself learning languages!

    @Anil: I agree that there is so much we can learn from children if we observe and mimic their approach to learning and absorbing. Your English skills are superb – I’m sure you have some tricks to help people go from conversant to fluent.

    @Sirje: So, so wonderful to hear from you!! You really are an inspiration with learning foreign languages – I remember watching in awe as you switched from Estonian to English to Swedish and then to Russian or German all in one conversation. Truly incredible. I think my head would have exploded.

    And yes, I do miss our chats. It was always so nice to stop by your place. I’m not sure if we’ll make it to Estonia this year, but hopefully sometime in the not-so-distant-future.

  24. says

    Great post and lots of helpful comments, too! I tend to be more visual so writing things down as some have mentioned helps me. I keep a vocabulary notebook which lists the new word, a brief sentence using the word as well as related words. For example, in addition to writing down the word “closed,” I might write “I’d like closed flowers, please.” Then I’d list “open” as the antonym. I also pick up the language by reading local publications including children’s books. About having an accent, I agree with the others that you just have to go for it. The YouTube video where Amy Walker mimics 21 accents reminds me that getting your message across is the main goal: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3UgpfSp2t6k

  25. says

    These are great tips! I’m considering taking a Spanish course in South America soon. I really want to learn the language, and I figured there’s no better way than immersing yourself in it and speaking it with locals. Now I just have to figure out how I’m going to get myself there ;)

  26. says

    Great advice! It’s so helpful to be able to say a few things when you’re in another country. And I think your advice applies to learning languages anywhere. I’m not travelling at the moment, and have been learning Spanish and Arabic for some time now. I’m always afraid to speak just in case I get it wrong – I switch to English quickly before I make a mistake! But what you say about trying trying trying is so true – and if you make someone laugh because of your mistakes, then so be it!

    Very impressed at your language abilities!

  27. says

    @Beverly: Great advice. Don’t just write down that one word, but write down related phrases, antonyms, synonyms and other related words. Also, I completely agree with picking up children’s books or comic books to learn a new language – we used to have a huge stack of “Asterix & Obelix” in my house for that reason.

    @Laura: Although not in South America, we thought the language courses in Xela, Guatemala were good and reasonably priced (around $175/week for private classes every day plus room/board in a host family). Also, Guatemala is cheaper to get to than most locations in South America.

    We’ve also heard good things about Arequipa in Peru. The trick is to find a place that has a good Spanish language teaching infrastructure, but isn’t too touristy so you don’t have the distractions of speaking English with other people. Feel free to send any other questions you might have on this.

    @Rebecca: That’s fantastic that you’re learning Spanish and Arabic. It is hard to turn off your inner critic, but I think when you start to do it and see results then it becomes easier and easier to do it each time in the future. Good luck!

  28. says

    Think like a child is a great way to explain it, but I also love learning from children. Host families with children are my favorite, because you can win them over by playing with them – super fun – and they’ll teach you things along the way. I learned some Swedish while making shadow puppets on a garage with a 10 year old and the spanish words for all kinds of toys while making paper airplanes.

    I find most kids are super patient, often have the time to spend with you, and love the opportunity to teach a “big person” something.

  29. says

    @Bessie: Hanging out with children is a fantastic way to learn languages. They not only tend to speak more simply than adults, but they do get a kick out of being able to teach “big people” a thing or two. They also don’t get tired of the “what is this?” pointing game and will repeat words as many times as you need it. Great advice!

  30. says

    Nice post. Number 5 & 6 are especially troublesome for me. I get self-conscious about how I sound and then fall back on English when I can. But then I guess that leads to number 7 ;)

  31. says

    This is a great set of tips. Thanks Audrey. I’m currently learning Spanish ‘in the comfort of my own home’ but I’m finding it’s giving me more confidence to use my language skills out in the open where possible. I particularly like #5. As a self-conscious Brit, we’re always using far too many words to get our point across because we wouldn’t ever want to appear rude or too direct. I have to stop myself sometimes from trying to emulate this kid of language in Spanish.,
    Off to Spain tomorrow for my first real practice session!

  32. Mary says

    Great tips. I want to learn French and Spanish, so I read your post with interest. I’m considering a family stay…any tips you can provide regarding how to find a good family stay would be greatly appreciated.

  33. says

    @Mary: In giving this advice, I’m making the assumption that the family homestay would be connected with a language school. My first tip would be to explain to the school what you are looking for in a homestay family. Here are some thoughts: 1) a family that either doesn’t speak any English or agrees not to speak English with you (we’ve heard stories of homestay kids using the opportunity to better their English – that’s understandable, but perhaps not what you’re looking for), 2) a family that shares their meals together with the student (in our last homestay we ate separately from the family, which was awkward and didn’t help our language skills), 3) a family that wants to share of their culture and city (i.e, not just act as room and board).

    Once you are in the homestay situation, feel free to let the school know if it’s not working out. Schools usually have a large selection of families they work with so they can find a replacement easily.

    Good luck and let us know how it works out!

  34. says

    Very interesting post full of practical tips and a very realistic approach to learning foreign languages. Thank you for sharing your “immersion” and great experiences!

  35. says

    These are great tips! Numbers 4 and 5 really resonated with me. Since I have a 3 year old, I’m getting quick with simplifying explanations in English, and I’m using this skill for Spanish, to describe words or situations I don’t know. Thanks.

  36. says

    @Cynthia: It takes practice to speak with simple concepts and words, but it is a great skill for learning new languages. Don’t have first hand experience working with language with kids, but I can see it being quite useful for that. Good luck with both!

  37. says

    I use active listening when listening to Portuguese to learn pronunication. And I will confirm usually be asking what do you means. You have to learn to laugh at your mistakes. For example I recently forgot gallina the Spanish word for hen and wrote galla. When someone pointed it out I just laughed. To me you fail when no one understands what you meant at all Even though I still make mistakes, I am happy when people can understand me and correct me. Be open to correction some people are just arrogant or prefectionsits you have to lose both attiudes

  38. says

    @Margaret: I couldn’t agree with you more about trying to communicate, making mistakes, having people correct you and continual learning. And yes, learning to laugh at oneself definitely helps when learning new languages!

  39. Muhammad Fazal Satti says

    I know english laguage but i want portugali language and i expect you will do my help.I shall be really gratefull to you.

  40. says

    @Muhammad: The best thing is if you can find a Portuguese language class that you can take to get started. Otherwise, look into language learning websites or audio programs like Pimsler. Good luck!

  41. says

    This an extremely helpful and thorough guide to possible avenues in learning a new language. I really like how you included “my experience.” That really helps us see that these tips are manageable and adventurous! Great article Audrey!

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