In most of the places I’m traveling to, English isn’t the main language (though it’s fairly common in some and the scientific community I interact with will speak it). But it feels so much better to be able to get the gist of things on your own than to smile awkwardly and act like a mute. Plus it’s just polite to make an effort to learn local languages when you travel.

Classes–You can take classes at a university. I took Conversational Chinese I and II here before going there in 2010 and it was a huge help. The teacher made sure my pronunciation and tones were so good that people I talked to on the street there got excited and started trying to have full conversations with me because they assumed I was fluent.

Duolingo–This is a free website where you can learn other languages that’s fun and works well. They currently only offer Spanish, French, German, Italian, and Portugese for English speakers (fewer if your native language isn’t English), but they’re constantly working to add more. I’ll be brushing up on my French verbs and learning basic German for my upcoming trips.

Airline computers–Some international airlines offer basic language instruction via the computers in the seatbacks. You can work on that instead of watching movies. I was able to pick up a few phrases of Thai this way, but they really aren’t as useful as they should be. The program focused on nouns I wouldn’t be using in daily conversation and didn’t discuss tones at all.

Guidebooks w/audio– If you buy a book to learn from, make sure it has audio. They won’t necessarily describe the pronunciation well via descriptive text.

And unless you’re fluent in the local language, it might be useful to carry a book of useful phrases around with you so you can point to them if need be.


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