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How to Learn a Language

Arriving in a foreign country and being barely able to order food or sort out your accommodation can be one of the most frustrating aspects of travel. It can be easy to become at least conversationally fluent in the dialect of your destination, and it doesn't have to mean hours spent over those horrendous foreign language books you despised in school. Here are some language-learning tips for the eager traveller:

Conversation, conversation, conversation

The human brain is automatically programmed to recognise patterns in language, so by totally immersing yourself in local conversation (providing you know a few key words or phrases in order to communicate back) then you can have yourself a vague reference of what means what. An hour of conversation with someone speaking a foreign language is worth five hours spent pouring over textbooks and audio tapes. Conversation is a huge motivation for most travellers wanting to learn a language. The human brain strives to be able to communicate and understand, so having a physical thing to conquer right in front of you means your brain is motivated to process it and learn it. Language is a process, not a memorisation technique. If you're too worried to immediately immerse yourself into conversation with an emphatic local, then try just turning the TV on in the local hostel and watching hours and hours of local TV in the language. This will ensure that you see situations and can try and understand the context and keywords used within dialogue.

Start with the top 100 most common words

Not all human vocabulary is the same - most languages have complex words that aren't always universal. Rosetta Stone might get you so far, but by not knowing the simplest of phrases that are used commonly, you might not even be capable of following the simplest of conversations. Most language-learning techniques have you learning all the words to do with the kitchen, or family for example, when you won't need this throughout your time travelling - how will you be able to ask for a bottle of water when all you can say is 'table' or 'mother'? Start with the top 100 most common words and use them to make sentences over and over again. Learn just enough grammar to be able to make some sense to locals and you feel confident.

Carry a pocket dictionary

This doesn't count as cheating, just to clarify. Local people will understand you are a tourist and will appreciate that you're attempting to learn the language instead of demanding things in ordinary English. Even if it's just an app on your phone, it can make communication with others so much easier - it takes two seconds to look something up, and because you're using it in physical conversation, you're more likely to remember it, the context and the reference.

Keep practicing

One of the first elements of foreign language learning is drilling. This sounds horrendous but by repeating and repeating the same phrases, say, by going out for lunch every day, and getting into a routine, you're more likely to remember things because of the situations being remembered by your brain.

Get over your mistakes

It's something which is totally alien to you and no one, no one learns a language right from the start. There will be grammatical errors or the wrong choice of word which means something slightly different to what it thought, or using the wrong words in the wrong context - most of language is technical but some of it is cultural and you'll only learn that by staying in the destination for a long time. It's going to happen - accept it.

Pronunciation is key

Latin-based languages stem from the same parents, so a lot of words are similar, just pronounced differently. Push aside the stereotypes - don't be over-zealous with your Italian or put accents onto your French. Pronunciation is essential for people knowing what you're saying, and not understanding - make sure it's on point (mostly).

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