When it comes to learning new languages, it’s not all about being fluent. Language company founder, Richard Howeson, shares his do’s and don’ts on language learning for beginners.
When you’re preparing for an overseas trip, language learning is often lucky to scrap in at the bottom of your ‘to-do’ list. But, thanks to digital downloads on your smartphone or computer, it’s very easy to learn enough words to make yourself understood, raise a smile and start a friendship. Here are my tips for beginners, based on 29 years’ worth of experience in the language-learning business.
Why Learn a Language?
Many years ago, I arrived in Malaga en-route to Marbella without knowing a word of Spanish. But, all was well because there was a long queue of taxi drivers waiting for passengers. I went up to the first one and asked if he spoke any English, he didn’t. I tried the next and the next until, finally, the seventh one replied ‘yes’. My face relaxed into a happy smile. Then he said, ‘but you have to go to the front of the queue’!
Because English is the second most common language in the world, it’s easy to rely on the linguistic skills of others to help us navigate our way through different countries.
But, if things don’t go according to play, or if you’re travelling off the beaten track, knowing a few words in the local language can make all the difference.
There’s no getting away from the fact that learning a language opens doors to new experiences and friendships. It also improves your memory, ability to multi-task and analytical skills. But, if you’re a complete beginner, where do you start?
Set a Realistic Goal
Too often people set the bar too high and then give up because of the enormity of the task. Language learning products also often don’t help because they encourage you to think you can become fluent relatively easily or they push grammar too early on.
The truth is that learning a language to fluency is a long journey and, for most of us, it’s better to focus on small, achievable goals one step at a time.
As for grammar, conjugations and declining nouns, we all agree they’re important stuff. But are they right for beginners? I don’t think so.
If you love grammar, please go ahead and study it but, for the rest of us, it’s worth saving for later. Instead, start off by learning some spoken words and phrases so you can make connections with people straightaway.
That way you can enjoy some early success and be far more motivated to carry on.
What to Learn and How to Learn It
Hungary is a beautiful country, but I remember it for all the wrong reasons. After arriving at a deserted Budapest airport late one night, I discovered to my horror that I couldn’t identify which were the men’s toilets and which were the women’s and I was busting to go. I reasoned that all I had to do was wait until someone else, who could read the Hungarian signs, went in first. I waited 20 minutes – it felt like 20 hours.
Since then, I’ve made a point of learning some essential words wherever I go on my travels. For me, they include WCs, food and drink, directions and social phrases.
So, it’s worth thinking about what your ‘must-have’ words would be. But knowing how to pronounce them doesn’t give you the whole picture.
From my own travel experience, I soon realised that there was no point in half-learning things. It was much better to learn a little so that it rolled readily off my tongue when I needed it, rather than a lot of words that I struggled to recall.
That’s why, when we started making language learning products, we used games to help people remember what they’d learned as well as their own language.
So, be savvy, learn the words you need and find a way of really committing them to memory. As with so many things, quality trumps quantity.
The Best Time to Learn
A holiday company we once worked with sold our products to customers both before and after they went on holiday. What surprised us all was that they found that customers were far more likely to buy after rather than before.
It is only when faced with real-life situations that we all wish that we’d done more to prepare when we had the chance.
But we’re now lucky enough to be able to download language learning apps onto our mobile devices. So, if you don’t have time to learn some language skills before you go, it’s worth making sure you’ve got the option to learn when you’re travelling.
Many apps, like ours, let you download the content when you’ve got access to the internet and then you can use it offline wherever you are at a time to suit you.
Give It a Go
There’s no time like the present. Why not have a go at learning some free words and phrases on us? Our 26 Free Starter Words are available in 140-plus languages and, if you don’t learn them now, you can always have a go on your next flight, train or voyage instead. To download our app, you can make a no-strings-attached account and pick the Starter Words in the language you need here.
If you like our learning method and want to learn more, we’re also offering Adventure Travel readers a special 40% discount on any of our 140-plus languages. Check out the January/February 2020 edition for the link!
But the most important thing isn’t whether or not you learn with us. It’s whether or not you put language learning on your travel ‘to-do’ list. Bon voyage!
Richard Howeson is the founder of uTalk language learning company and its bestselling app called uTalk – Learn any language. He believes speaking just a few words in someone else’s language can help make the world a smaller, friendlier place. Discover uTalk’s range of 140 languages at utalk.com/en/store.