You want to travel and discover a foreign country but don’t speak the language? You have come to the right place! In this post, I am sharing all my best tips for learning any language for traveling. I am going to share with you my best resources and what part of vocabulary you should focus on. Let’s start!
1- Focus on the right vocabulary
When I first started to learn Spanish, I made two mistakes. The first one was to not focus on the essential vocabulary. I would learn basic sentences like “The girl eats the apple,” whereas what I needed to learn was “I would like to purchase a train ticket.”
The second mistake I made was trying to understand some language exceptions when I did not even learn the basics first. I was putting my efforts into trying to understand some concepts that weren’t going to be helpful as a beginner.
So the first thing I suggest you to do when planning your learning is to create a learning timeline with a vocabulary precise to traveling. Here are the most helpful vocabulary categories to learn for traveling:
Most useful vocabulary categories for traveling
Right pronunciation of the letters* and basic numbers.
*If the language you are learning is using a different alphabet than yours, I suggest maybe not to start with the alphabet, since for traveling, what you will be needing the most will actually to be able to say something in the language.
Saying hi, presenting yourself. Asking how the other person is doing, etc.
Yes, no, I don’t know, I don’t understand, can you speak slowly, can you repeat, sorry, thanks, please, I speak/I don’t speak…
Days of the week, time, and how to situate in time
Today, yesterday, tomorrow, tonight, etc.
Basic verbs present tense:
To be, to have, to speak, to buy, to cost, to work, to learn, to know, to eat, to walk, to need, to drink, to live, to see, to ask, to call, to lend, to pay, to learn, to sell
The basic construction of a sentence
Positive and negative sentences
Where, who, how much, how many, when, what, how.
Useful interrogative sentences
How much does it cost, where is …, when does the train leave, where are you from, what is .., do you speak…, do you understand…
Asking for a table, how to order, basic items on a menu, what do you recommend, can I pay with a credit card.
Room, twin room, simple room, towels, blankets, pillow, water. How much does it cost for a simple room, how many nights do you want to book, the name of the reservation, where can I leave my luggage, and when is the check-in/check out.
Bus, car, taxi, ticket, round-trip, left, right. I want to buy a ticket for (destination) round-trip. Do you pass near …, When is the next departure for…, when does the train leave for…, what is the station for …, how long is the ride, what time is boarding, the train/plane is late, etc.
Asking about interests, jobs, and studies. Have you ever been to …, is it your first time in…, what is your favorite attraction, can you take a picture, do you have Instagram, etc.
Help, I am not feeling well, where are the restrooms, I am thirsty, I’m cold, it’s too hot, I am lost, I lost, I am vaccinated, call a doctor.
So I feel like this list is pretty complete for vocabulary for traveling. This is the vocabulary I focus my learning on for my trip to Spain, so I’ll be able to confirm with you afterward 😉 If I forgot something, let me know in the comments!
To help me learn vocabulary, one of the websites I love is Quizlet. There is a web version and an app if you prefer practicing on your phone. Quizlet allows you to create vocabulary lists where you write the new words and their traductions that are then transformed into diverse learning modes. There is the flashcard mode, the learning mode, which is exceptionally well designed to learn effectively, the test mode, and the match mode (matching the word with its traduction).
The app and website are free of use which is great, and for about 4$/month, the QuizletPlus option allows you to study offline.
3- Get yourself a small phrasebook.
I also strongly recommend to get yourself a small travel phrasebook. I have the one from Lonely Planet for Spanish, and I am glad I purchased it. It is very well designed with categories (conversations, visits, shopping, going out, restaurant, services, transport, accommodation, health). You can then easily find the sentence you are looking for. Finally, it also comes with some travel recommendations/attractions, and it fits in a pocket!
4- Focus on the hearing and speaking skill
Another tip that I strongly suggest is to invest in some private lessons. I was lucky enough to know a language teacher for Spanish, and she agreed to give me some private lessons for a reasonable price.
So if you know someone who speaks the language you want to learn, ask for some lessons! If you offer to pay, the answer will probably be positive…and still probably be less costly than actual private lessons that sometimes can be up to 50$/hour….
The important thing is that you get the chance to practice your speaking skill and to be asked some questions in the language. Yes, watching a show in the language helps to learn, but practicing with someone is a more effective way to practice for when you will be traveling.
If you do not know someone who speaks your target language, there are some apps such as HelloTalk, which I talk more about in this previous article. I also talk about Facebook Language Learning Groups, which is another fantastic way to practice the speaking component of language learning.
This is one of my favorite resources for learning a new language. Learning a new language takes time and repetition. You will earn faster by doing a little every day than a lot but not often. EasyLanguage is then the perfect way to keep learning, one video at a time.
EasyLanguage is a Youtube channel for language learners. Native speakers animate it, and there are literally all the languages: French, German, Greek, English, Italian, Polish, Croatian, Catalan, Korean, Vietnamese, Mandarin, Cantonese, Spanish, Swahili, and much more!
The concept is that each video is a street interview dedicated to a specific theme. For example, in one video, the animator asks people in the street what is their favorite food. It is great because the videos are not too long, each video has subtitles in the language AND English, and the animators take the time not to speak too fast, and you get to hear locals speaking the language.
6- Practice in your mind!
Finally, practice whenever it is possible! While doing the dishes, practice in your mind what you would say when you will go to the restaurant. Not sure about a word? Look it up on the web; it is allowed!
Doing your groceries? Try to write your list in the language you are trying to learn. You will expand your food vocabulary.
Taking a walk? Practice what you would say to present yourself and make new friends.
Dressing up in the morning? Try to name the clothes you are wearing in your target language.
On the bus or the metro? Practice in your head the transport vocabulary.
This is it for How to Learn a Foreign Language for Travel! I hope you enjoyed it and found valuable resources. As you might already know, learning foreign languages is a passion of mine, so I love sharing my recent finds and best tips when it comes to this topic.
I will be practicing my Spanish in Spain in a few weeks, so I will make sure to give you and update on my learning…wish me luck!