How do you prepare for a semester abroad? A lot of the details are taken care of for you – a place to stay, a place to study, and a group of people to share the experience with. You might even be set up with a language class once you arrive to learn some of the language. However, the language learning is better off started before you step foot out of the country. Here are some of the top benefits reported for studying the language of the country visited before leaving.
Softening the Culture Shock
Traveling to a new country brings a lot of change at one time. You will be in a new landscape with people speaking a different language. There will be new rules and norms for catching a cab, ordering food, and dressing. It can be a bit of a shock to have all of this change at one time. These first few days and weeks in this new country should be the experience of a lifetime and best spent without having to go through much of an adjustment period. Learning just the essentials of this new language can help reduce this shock quite a bit upon arrival. Learn how greet others when you meet them and get familiar with the language you will be hearing all around you. You might even be able to pick up a word here and there.
There are many aspects of studying abroad that are exciting. Being engulfed in the culture of a new country brings history, seeing museums and old buildings, hearing stories, meeting new people, and speaking the language of the country. A lot of this can be done before you ever step foot in that new country. Learning the language and practicing the basics with your friends is one way to not only get familiar with the language, but build the excitement of getting to use these new phrases with people in your country of study.
Offers a Stepping Stone
Hopefully in your time studying abroad, you will get familiar with the language and be able to have small conversations before you come home. Knowing the basics before you travel can help kickstart this learning of the language. Learn the basics before you go – greetings, ordering food, asking directions, and phrases that will help you learn more, such as “How do you say…? These basics will make it easier to get off the beaten path and adventure out on your own even from day one in this new country. As long as you know how to ask for directions, greet others and interact with employees in shops, you will be able to get around the towns easily.
Meeting New Friends
Time studying abroad is limited and it will be over before you know it. So there is no time to waste when it comes to meeting new people. Be able to introduce yourself and meet new people right away to ensure that you take full advantage of your time in this new country. Even if you can’t carry on the conversation past telling the other person where you are from, greeting others in their own language and putting forth an effort is, a lot of the time, enough to show that you are friendly and continue a friendship.
No matter how well your trip is planned, it is always best to steer on the safe side. What will you do if you find yourself separated from others you know and need to find your way back? Or what if you lose your phone and wallet? Knowing the language will help you to find your way back and ask for help in locating your lost items or reporting them and getting back to where you need to be for additional help. For this look for phrases that teach both asking for directions and understanding the response – how do I get to, turn right, turn left, 3 miles.
You don’t have to learn the entire language or be fluent by any means. This will hopefully build over time while you are studying abroad. There are some tools that you can use to get this basic understanding of the language. Programs such as Duolingo, Fluent Forever and Rosetta Stone are meant more for learning the entire language long term. If you have a year or so before your trip, by all means, try these. But if you only have a few months to prepare for your trip, you can pick up a phrase book, like the one from Lonely Planet. The upside to this is that the book is small so you can pack it easily in your bag if needed as well. There are also online programs you can access to help study, such as flashcards for common phrases from The Tandem Traveler, or a three month program for travelers from Living Language. It can be difficult to figure out which phrases will be most useful while traveling when you don’t have a lot of time to pick up the language. These programs do that work for you.
Whatever you reason is, learn at least the 100 most common words and phrases for travelers. Time and again repeat travelers report that their experiences were so much better from travel where they studied the language first firsts trips where they dd not.
Guest Post by Lisa Sickman, MA, BCBA
Lisa Sickman, MA, BCBA, is a behavior analyst and the Co-founder and Chief Learning Officer at The Tandem Traveler. The Tandem Traveler is an online company committed to teaching language to travelers for better cultural experiences abroad.