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  #1  
Old 27 May 2012
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Learning a new language?

I'm thinking seriously about traveling outside of North America by the end of next year, depending on how well my job up here in Alaska pays and if they keep me on past the end of the season. Not really sure where I'm headed just yet, convenience and costs say go south but my heart is pulling to go back to Europe. Regardless, I'd like to pick up a second language as I can only see it helping while on the road. I know a little bit of French thanks to high school, enough mainly to read but not well enough to speak it.

What languages have you guys and gals found to be beneficial to know on the long haul? I'm leaning towards brushing up on my French or learning Spanish (which can only help here at home anyway). How did you learn it; classes and/or books and programs, immersion on the road, bi- or multi-lingual from birth? Did you find learning at home translated well to actual use on the road?
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Old 28 May 2012
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I can speak a little French, and this has been useful around Europe (although I'm constantly embarrased by how well others speak English!). I'm off to North Africa next year, and French will be useful there, too, although I'm also going to try to learn some Arabic. I distinctly remember watching one of the Horizons Unlimited DVD's where Grant talks about how things were a little iffy until he said thank you in the boarder guard's language, at which point he apparently came over, shook his hand and smiled. This is the response I want!

In other parts of the world, I think Spanish is quite widely spoken, so that's not a bad idea.

In terms of how I learn a language, I learnt French at school by recording myself speaking it and listening to the 'tapes' (as they were then) walking to and from school. Now, I still like to listen to a language being spoken on MP3's, but am considering investing in the Rosetta Stone Arabic course; see how that goes.

Whatever method you choose, there's no substitute for speaking to locals!

Good luck on your travels!
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Old 28 May 2012
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Before answering, I'd like to mention a couple of ideas:

- Ask yourself if you are willing to pay language classes.
- Think if you are willing to commit to attend classes, study and do all homework, in case you enroll in a class... or if you want a natural way (aka learn it without working hard).
- Consider if you want to speak it properly or if you just want to speak it like Sitting-Bull smoking the peace-pipe with General Custer (aka you want to a have a deeper/more fullfilling conversation or just communicate basic ideas no matter how bad you speak the language).

If you want to learn it well and are willing to work hard, then go for classes several times a week, work hard and READ as much as you can. Try to find someone for an exchange (English vs. Spanish/French).

If you want to communicate and don't feel like studying too much, go for downloading a "natural way", you won't waste too much money if you get soon tired.

Two last ideas: unless you are a gypsy with plenty of time in every country and great talent and need of learning the language, just basic chatting won't make you a great speaker. And keep in mind that, by contrast to the rain, where you get always soaked if you walk under the storm, getting to a foreign country does not guarantee you speaking or learning the language (beyond petrol, room, food, etc).

Hope it helps. Safe trips,

Esteban

Last edited by estebangc; 11 Jun 2012 at 22:44. Reason: want sounds but doesn't mean won't
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Old 29 May 2012
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I am a firm believer that people who want to communicate invariably will.

That doesn't allow disrespect for the language and politeness towards the 'host' country I am visiting.

Assuming English is your first or a good second language, statistically, based on numbers of speakers in the World, the numbers tell you should concentrate on Chinese. Then possibly Spanish. Russian is widely spoken, particulaly in former USSR countries (and Israel), but probably not so much in South America.

Much depends on where you want to travel and their own first and second languages.

The most important thing is to understand their alphabet and have a few introductory and politeness phrases in their language. Other than that, as I said, people who want to communicate invariably will.
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Old 29 May 2012
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I would decide first where you want to go, then pick the language that will help the most. Though the language to learn may be a part of the decision on where to go (Learning French will obviously be easier than any other language, and would help a lot if you want to travel Africa and to a lesser extent Europe).

I agree that people who want to communicate invariably will. I knew nothing of Spanish before leaving on my trip (now in Peru). I took a 2-week immersion course in Zacatecas, and listened to the audio series by Michel Thomas (which are fantastic, especially if you are an analytical type). But for the past six months or so I've not studied much. My Spanish continually improves. The biggest challenge is just getting used to the different accents as I move around, and convincing people to talk slowly. It has been slow going and I fully admit I could improve a LOT faster if I studied more often or took more classes. But I can have surprisingly complex conversations even so, and can trivially get by on daily stuff.

All that said, I wish I had learned a bit of the language before I left. It would have helped enormously. Or perhaps taken a month of immersion lessons instead of just two weeks.

And don't discount reading those books. Vocabulary is by far the hardest part of a language (for me, at least), and reading is a great way to get more vocabulary and an instinct for correct grammar. Pronunciation can change so much from one place to the next that you may need to frequently relearn that anyways....
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Old 29 May 2012
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Can't help with the choice of language or method, but kudos on your desire to learn. Too many Brits assume that speaking English louder will overcome any difficulty in a foreign country - and then we wonder why they don't like us. Bothering to learn even a few basic words and phrases demonstrates a humility and a willingness to learn which will go a long way in a country where you don't speak the language. The French, for example, are notoriously touchy about their language and some say they are downright rude to foreigners, but I have never encountered anything but kindness in my many visits there. I put this down to the fact that I speak a little of the language (enough for a basic conversation) and always speak in French first. If their English is better than my French, we can switch to English, but the point has been made.

Good on you, and good luck with it.
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  #7  
Old 11 Jun 2012
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Originally Posted by BlackDogZulu View Post
Can't help with the choice of language or method, but kudos on your desire to learn. Too many Brits assume that speaking English louder will overcome any difficulty in a foreign country - and then we wonder why they don't like us. Bothering to learn even a few basic words and phrases demonstrates a humility and a willingness to learn which will go a long way in a country where you don't speak the language. The French, for example, are notoriously touchy about their language and some say they are downright rude to foreigners, but I have never encountered anything but kindness in my many visits there. I put this down to the fact that I speak a little of the language (enough for a basic conversation) and always speak in French first. If their English is better than my French, we can switch to English, but the point has been made.

Good on you, and good luck with it.
+1. You hit the nail on the head, that's plain truth. Anyone who tried to speak French knows it.
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Old 11 Jun 2012
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Originally Posted by othalan View Post
And don't discount reading those books. Vocabulary is by far the hardest part of a language (for me, at least), and reading is a great way to get more vocabulary and an instinct for correct grammar. Pronunciation can change so much from one place to the next that you may need to frequently relearn that anyways....
Dual language books (1 page in Spanish, the next contains the translation in English): you may forget the words if you only know the sounding but are unsure about the spelling. But will remember them much longer if you have read them.

Please, tell me how many times you were surprised to recognize in a banner the spelling/writing of a word you had heard many times (but had never read).
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