Tips for learning languages "on the go"

by Izabela Wisniewska

Traditionally, languages are taught in a classroom. A language class has been an educational staple for decades now, and you’ll either have fond or dreaded memories of sitting in school, struggling with even the most basic of sentences. How hard can it be to ask where the swimming pool is?

But as you grow into adult life, you may feel it is time for another crack. Our increasingly interconnected world has lead to a constant clash of cultures, wherein learning a second language can help greatly. As the pursuit of the free spirit backpacking life has grown, so has the need to be able to communicate with the locals of wherever you end up. If ever there was a time to become bilingual, trilingual, or dodeca lingual (that’s 12 languages), it is now.

The problem, however, arises from your lack of free time. As children often ignore until they graduate, in adulthood you aren’t often granted massive amounts of time in which to learn something. You have work, family, and other commitments to attend to, so fitting in 50+ “How to learn Finnish” classes isn’t likely to happen. So what are your options for learning on the move? Here are some avenues you may wish to explore.

Language Apps To steal an overused marketing slogan, when it comes to learning languages, “there is an app for that”. Springing up left, right, and centre, language apps range from incredibly basic and unintelligible, to expensive and comprehensive. Your choice of app will be the result of several different factors. For example, do you wish to reach a basic comprehension of everyday phrases, a level wherein you can hold a simple conversion, or become completely fluent?

Also, do you work better with words, with audio instructions, or with visual aid? The tidal waves of apps means there will be one tailor made for you. Some even incorporate games, if you want to scratch two itches at once.

Audio Recordings

Of course, you may not be able to look at your phone whenever you want to use an app. During a commute, walking, driving, or even being on a heaving train carriage can prevent you from having a visual aid open in front of you. To this end, there are audio centric podcasts and MP3s that limit the learning, as much as possible, to audio form. Obviously, this won’t help you understand written language, but if vocabulary is all you are after, this could be a handy tool.

Better yet, use it in tandem. A complete understand of language will incorporate reading, writing, speaking and seeing, so if you can mix and match your learning methods, you may find better results in the long run. Just as the app store is full of learning programmes, YouTube has a robust gallery of users and videos that can help you understand the real world applications of words and speech.

Quick Learning

These methods all pertain to those who have time to plan out there learning. But sometimes, you need a word, and you need it quickly. Learning fluent Hungarian wasn’t an option before your trip, but right now, you need to find a petrol station in Budapest (“benzinkút”, just in case you were wondering).

Fortunately, there are thousands upon thousands of blogs written by like minded travellers, who have compiled innumerable lists of how to say useful phrases. There are blogs on how to find a payphone, how to locate the airport, and how to ask for the bathroom. And, thanks to the ever increasing spread of Wi-Fi, you should be able to find a connection somewhere. Considering there are even camping fields with Wi-Fi access, you have little excuse.

No internet whatsoever? Hopefully you had enough common sense to think ahead for such an eventuality. There are, again, thousands of apps that can replace your phrase book, and even speak allowed the phrase you are trying to say. Some can even translate what is being said to you from the person you are talking to (or, more accurately, your app is talking to).

Thankfully, the advancement of technology has made these crash courses in languages a much more valid option than they were 10 years ago. Those with the real determination to learn another language will find a wealth of options available to them to help in the process. There is an aid to suit every situation, so seek out the best method for you and you could soon be ordering your Chinese takeaway in fluent Mandarin.


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