Contributing writer Siôn Owen sends us another great blog post on tips that will help you get over your language-learning hurdles. From approaching a local when you travel to to reaching out to your Livemocha friends, these five tips are sure to help you conquer your goals.
Taking the Maiden Voyage: How to Ace the First Real Test of Your Language Skills
by Siôn Owen
You’ve studied the culture, researched the sites, packed your undies, and now, for the very first time, you’re ready to board the plane and put your language skills to the test. You may be wondering: “Will my accent be good enough? Will they understand what I’m saying?” It’s normal to be a bit nervous. After all, you’re one of a relatively small group of brave souls taking the plunge each year to immerse themselves in another culture (for example, only about 30% of Americans have a passport). But the best thing you can do is throw those nerves out the window and remember to hit the ground running.
The five minute rule
Speak to someone in the local language within five minutes of getting off the plane. The longer you wait, the more likely you are to overthink things, lose confidence, and psych yourself out. Charge right on in and chat up the nearest flight attendant or security officer. If you can’t think of any important questions to ask, simply say how pleased you are to be in their country, or how much you like their shoes. You’ll probably get a smile, and the positive interaction will set the stage for the rest of your trip.
Give the cabbie a verbal shower (even if what he actually needs is a real one)
If you’re taking a taxi to your destination, talk the driver’s ear off. Ask him about his favorite things in the city and juiciest passenger stories. A taxi driver is a perfect captive audience who basically has no choice but to listen to you utterly butcher his language – or speak it with a queen’s perfection! If he’s on the phone, tell him you’re allergic to Bluetooth so he’ll shut it off. (Look out for more taxi tips in an upcoming post.)
Make hotel employees your best friends
The goal here is constant immersion. If you’re staying with friends, ask them to speak to you as much as possible in the local language. If you’re staying in a hotel, chat up the employees every day and use them as a resource. Don’t ask the concierge for tips or you’ll end up dining next to a gaggle of seniors from Omaha. Ask the bellhop instead. When you get back from an afternoon of activities, strike up a conversation with the front desk staff and tell them what you did. Oh, and when you’re lounging in the room in between outings, I know you’re not flipping through the English channels, right?
Book a private tour
On your first or second day, take a one-on-one walking tour with a local guide. Yes, it will be more expensive than a group tour, but hear me out. If you take a group tour it’s going to be in English, and all the people you meet, while likely very lovely, will be English speakers. A private tour provides you with yet another perfect opportunity to corner a local and hammer them with everything you have in the local language. Ask lots of questions, and if there’s something you don’t understand, ask the guide to explain in English. You’ll get a unique perspective of the city and possibly the world’s most interesting language lesson all rolled into one. Doesn’t seem so expensive now, does it?
Use your MochaManiacs
By now you’ve probably built up a fairly sizeable network of friends on Livemocha. Reach out to them and ask for restaurant recommendations, or offer to buy them a coffee in exchange for a short face-to-face chat. You never know, you may end up with an invitation to a party or a weekend food fest at grandma’s house (and everyone knows grandmas are the best cooks).
The key thing is not to be shy! Your success in this real-world language test is totally determined by your effort. Be bold, and remember to turn every situation into an opportunity for a chat. If you totally fumble the language when speaking with a local, they almost certainly won’t be offended, and will probably even giggle and help you out. So, the worst case scenario is you make someone laugh and take pride in having done your good deed for the day. Win!
Siôn Owen is a Livemocha contributing author and earth’s biggest fan of curry and Caribbean food. He’s learning Portuguese, and also loves helping people learn English on his Facebook page, Smash English. Siôn lives in Chicago, Illinois USA.