7 Tips And Tricks To Practice/Use Your Foreign Language Skills When You Travel Abroad
Have you ever wondered how you could practice your second language skills when traveling abroad? Or how you could have a fun experience that allows you to immerse yourself in the culture and be able to improve your foreign language skills at the same time? And better than that: Without having to apply to any study abroad exchange program or having to study those boring grammar/language books when going on vacation? Yes, it is very much possible! It’s possible to use your time on vacation to improve your fluency skills. So if you are interested in turning your travel experiences into moments in which you can practice and use your second language while traveling, this article is for you! I’m going to introduce to you seven tips and tricks on how to do that.
“I’ve been to Orlando, Florida four times. And every single time I go there, I never get to experience the American culture, and I never get to speak English. So how can I find ways to use my second language, which is English, and really immerse myself in the culture while going on vacation to an English-speaking country?”
A friend of mine told me that after he went to Florida for the fourth time with his family. He said that he didn’t really get to practice English and that he didn’t get to improve as much. He said he used English at the airport, and at the car rental place, but other than that, he spoke Portuguese and Spanish most of the time.
“Gabe, I spent 20 days in England and I did not improve my English at all. I don’t know why, but I was expecting to use my second language more often while being there, and I was expecting to make so much more progress as well. I feel like I wasn’t able to use and improve my English at all”.
This other friend of mine reported that to me. He was super disappointed that he came back from England without making any improvements in his English.
These two friends of mine and millions of other language learners have one thing in common: They don’t know that this is such a sad but true reality among language learners who travel abroad seeking to practice and improve their foreign language skills. Although it sounds extremely obvious that when you travel abroad you will get to speak the language of that country, the reality is that most travelers end up having only very touristy experiences, and they don’t get to use their language skills very often.
Another thing they don’t know is that just being in a foreign country where the native language is the language you’re trying to learn isn’t going to help much. The biggest mistake travelers and language learners make is to believe that there’s this sort of magic thing that, as soon as you step into a different country, you start to naturally speak the language of that country. This is all a lie. I’ve met people who have lived years and years in the U.S., Canada, England, Australia, Ireland, and so many other countries, and yet, they can’t speak a single word of English. Traveling to an English-speaking country won’t help you improve your English. Spending 30 days in France won’t make you learn or improve your French. A 15-day vacation in Mexico will not make you fluent in Spanish. Do not fall into this trap. You won’t learn anything and you’ll feel disappointed in yourself. The simple act of being abroad won’t help you make significant progress towards fluency. However, finding ways to immerse yourself in the language and culture by creating a learning and immersion setting for you so that you can practice and use your second language, is how you will learn! This is how you will be able to turn your travel experience into a learning, immersive and fun experience. Foreign countries do not have any sort of magic that will make you learn their native language. You need to find the right tools to reach this goal.
So, if you’re wondering now what to do so that while still being on vacation you can use and improve your second language skills, grab a pen and paper, and make sure to take notes of these wonderful things you could do next time you travel abroad:
7- Get a haircut
I know this can sound super scary if you don’t speak the language very fluently. You might be afraid that the hairdresser might mess up with your hair completely and you will look like a total freak, but I find that one of the most fun and incredible experiences to use and practice my foreign language skills. I’ve done that in the U.S., Canada, and Spain. This is a perfect thing to do and it is very easy to start a conversation. The thing is: It’s super awkward to approach a stranger on the street to start a conversation, right? This is why you need to find “natural” ways to do that. So getting a haircut is one of them. Make sure you learn how to say what kind of haircut you want, choose a picture that illustrates what’s on your mind, and just go for it. It’s a great setting to practice languages. While getting your hair done, you could spend that time talking and learning. A simple: “Where are you from?” can strike a one-hour conversation. A lot of locals are interested in different cultures. They will be pleased to have a foreign traveler at their barbershop or salon.
6- Go to the movie theater
Are you used to watching foreign movies in the original audio but with the captions in your native language? Well, this is not possible in foreign countries. Going to the movie theater will force you to immerse yourself in the language one hundred percent. You won’t have your native language to lean on, so your only choice will be to pay close attention to the story of the movie so that you’re able to understand. And if you’re hesitant to do that because you think you aren’t fluent enough, I want to share something with you:
“You never know how strong you are until being strong is the only choice you have”. Bob Marley.
I love this quote so much! And I love to apply it to language learning. You will only know how to be fluent or how to understand native speakers when being fluent and understanding native speakers are the only choices you have. So this is why this is a great thing to do when traveling abroad. Choose a random movie in France, buy lots of popcorn and Coca Cola and enjoy watching that movie in French. Haven’t you been studying French? Haven’t you been studying English? Haven’t you been studying Spanish? Trust yourself and just do it. You might be surprised!
5- Go to a bar/pub at a hostel and approach a solo traveler
Ok. You can do this at any other bar or pub you go to. But the one place that will be filled with solo travelers from all over the world is a hostel. A lot of hostels will throw parties that stimulate the interaction among the guests. My favorite hostels in Europe are St. Christopher’s Inn and Hostel World. They are everywhere in Europe. They promote parties, events, games so that solo travelers can interact and make friends. This is a great chance to practice and use your foreign language skills. You will be connected with people from all over the world in a fun and safe environment.
4- Take a class/attend a workshop at a public library.
Which city are you traveling to? New York City? London? Barcelona? Before getting there, try looking this up on the internet: Public libraries in… (and then you write the name of the city you’re traveling to). You will be surprised with how many libraries there are, and with how many events, workshops, and classes you might be able to join. There are plenty of fun classes to take (which mostly are at no cost) and they will be a great chance for you to practice and use your foreign language skills.
And when searching for classes and workshops at public libraries, don’t forget to check the towns nearby the city you’re traveling to as well. I took a photography class for beginners at a public library in Maplewood, NJ, which is a 30-minute train ride from New York City. It was free, and I got to use my English while learning a new skill.
3- Go on a walking tour
Walking tours are so much fun. They are not only fun but also very enriching experiences you can have as a traveler. You have the chance to learn so much about what places have to offer. Being able to get to know a tourist sight, why it became famous, the history behind it, and other details by a local guide is an amazing experience.
When you take a walking tour, you can get advice from locals, you can meet so many people, you don’t have to worry about making any plans because the tour has everything already planned out. It’s the best way to see the city, practice your language skills and get some exercise done. And most of the time, THEY ARE FREE.
2- Stay off the beaten path
The farther away you stay from beaten paths, the more likely it is that you will need to use your language skills. I’m going to put it in this way for you:
I’m from Belo Horizonte, Minas Gerais. It is the largest city in the state of Minas Gerais which is located in the southeast part of Brazil. Because it is the capital of the state, and because it is so touristy, there are a lot of people there who can speak English quite well. If you go to hotels, famous tourist attractions, and certain restaurants you might be able to communicate with the locals (especially the younger generation) without a problem. However, if you go a bit farther away, let’s say to Diamantina, which is about a 4-hour drive from Belo Horizonte, you might not find one single person who can speak multiple foreign languages. Diamantina is a historic town and lots of tourists come to visit from all over Brazil every year, but it is not the most famous international attraction in the state of Minas Gerais. So, if you were to go there to practice your Português, you would have way more chances to do so.
When I went to Italy, I got to visit a friend who lives about 3 hours away from Rome. She took me to this small little restaurant where she lives in a small town by the Mediterranean Sea, and the owners said I was the first tourist at the restaurant that year. They could speak no English, but they were the most hospitable people I’ve ever met. I was able to use the little Italian that I know and I had a great time there. I spent seven days in Rome and I can count on one hand how many times I needed to speak Italian. So many people could understand English, Spanish, Portuguese, and I’m sure a lot more languages. It is an international destination. A lot of the people who work in the tourism industry around the world are required to speak at least one more language. So hitting places off the beaten path can be one of the most powerful things you can do to be able to practice and use your foreign language skills.
1- Book an Airbnb Experience
I did not know about Airbnb Experiences until I traveled to Puerto Rico alone and met this sweet girl at a bar who soon became a friend. I thought Airbnb only offered cheap accommodation, but I was wrong.
What’s an Airbnb Experience?
According to the Airbnb website, “Airbnb Experiences are activities designed and led by locals. They go beyond typical tours or classes by immersing guests in a host’s unique world”. You don’t have to stay in a home on Airbnb to be able to book an experience.
One of the most unforgettable travel experiences I’ve ever had was when I booked a Salsa Dance Lesson in Puerto Rico through Airbnb. I love dancing so much, I grew up dancing to hip-hop, and pop. So I’ve always dreamed of taking a local dance lesson in another country. When this friend I met at this bar told me that she was going to be taking this lesson she booked on Airbnb, I did not hesitate to ask her if I could join her. We did it together, and when we got there, we were able to meet other amazing travelers. I had so much fun. This was, without a shadow of a doubt, one of the most incredible experiences I’ve ever had in my life and it certainly allowed me to use Spanish.
Do you know of any other ways you could use and practice your foreign language skills when traveling abroad?
I’d love to hear from you!
Thank you so much for reading my article today! It’s an honor to have you here! Don’t forget to check the other ones out!