foreign language
➡  How to learn 📆 1 November 2023 ✍️  Konrad Jerzak vel Dobosz

You might soon be getting ready for a trip abroad to a country where the foreign language you are learning is spoken. So, how should you prepare for such a journey? What can you expect? Having been to Prague, where I was able to communicate fully in Czech for the first time, and also having been to India, where I was able to practice my Hindi, I have gathered a handful of tips and advice that might also be useful to you. Here they are:

  1. Prepare a list of typical scenarios you’ll encounter along the way and think about the sentences that will surely come up. For example, I knew that in Prague, I would need to take a taxi to the hotel. So, I prepared a few sample sentences in my head that I could try out in conversation with the driver: “We are going to XYZ street, to the XYZ hotel”, “Is the hotel far?”, “How long will it take to get there?” etc. If you are flying, you will likely have an opportunity to order a drink. Practice various possibilities, and if it’s easy for you, increase the difficulty level – ask for ice, inquire if they have a different juice, etc.
  2. If you are learning a less popular foreign language, be prepared to explain why you’re learning it, as this question will definitely arise. It’s also good to formulate answers to questions such as: “Is this your first time in this country?”, “How many days are you here for?” etc.
  3. Practice a few sentences that can help break the ice and allow you to continue the conversation in the foreign language you’re learning, rather than switching to English, for example (some foreigners tend to do that). As I was traveling around Delhi, I spoke with the driver only in Hindi. I started by saying that my Hindi isn’t very good and that I’m glad my interlocutor speaks slowly because it helps me understand better (which wasn’t entirely true, but it encouraged him to keep speaking only in Hindi – which he did with pleasure). If you have the opportunity, try to also say that the city you are in is very beautiful, that you really like the country, etc.
  4. Even if you already know the language quite well, you will certainly not understand everything that is said to you. If it’s your first contact with the “real” language, prepare to understand only about 30-40% of the content, no more. This is completely normal, so there’s no need to worry about it. Try to catch the context and key words. Your interlocutor may ask you, for example, how long you have been learning the language, but will use some strange phrase. If you manage to catch the word “learn,” you’ll understand what they’re getting at and will be able to respond without a problem. So, don’t try to understand every single word; try to understand the general meaning of what’s being said.
  5. Be prepared that nervousness may take away your ability to speak and you’ll start forgetting words and phrases that were well known to you. How to control stage fright? I’m currently reading Tomasz Kammel’s book “How to perform publicly not only on television”. He gives two good pieces of advice on how to deal with stage fright. First, we should learn the basic sentences for starting a conversation well (see point 1). They will send a subconscious message to the brain that the situation is under control, which will help the initial nerves to subside. Kammel also advises using a breathing exercise (3-1-6), which should be performed as follows: inhale for 3 seconds, hold your breath for 1 second, and exhale for 6 seconds. Repeat this several times. You can also use a similar method (3-6-9), which only differs in the length of each step. Try it now and see how simple breathing can relax you.
  6. When you’re stressed, you will confuse conjugations and tenses, and so on. Don’t worry too much about it. The secret of speaking a foreign language is that the listener often hears what they want to hear, so they won’t even notice your mistake in many cases. If you don’t remember which article to use in German, quickly say “de,” and the German will hear the correct form: “dem,” “der,” “den,” etc. And even if you mix up masculine with feminine, which is very common in French, for instance, you will still be understood.
  7. Try to catch the characteristic features of pronunciation of the people you’re talking to, as well as words and phrases they weave in. Be like a parrot. This will make you sound much more natural. In Hindi, for example, the word for “no,” which is “nahin,” is pronounced in such a way that the “h” sound is practically inaudible. This isn’t always clear in textbook recordings, but I’m starting to get used to it and adjust my pronunciation. In Czech, on the other hand, there is a literary language, which textbooks usually focus on, as well as colloquial language. You will only hear some expressions and words after arriving, like the fact that Czechs confirm by saying “jo” rather than “ano,” etc. This is not taught in textbooks.
  8. Using the local language will open doors that are usually closed to you. At the Delhi bazaar, my knowledge of Hindi helped me bargain for a better price. My polyglot friend Marlon Couto Ribeiro always orders kebabs in Turkish in Poland, and as a result, he often gets them for free. Try it yourself. The rarer the language, the better the effect!

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Article originally published at in Polish. You can find it here.

Konrad Jerzak vel Dobosz

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