Picture the sight; it’s a beautiful summers day down at the beach, sipping mojitos while the waves gently nibble on your toes. It’s almost ticklish and you have to refrain from giggling like a child sitting on the naughty bench at school but you resist the temptation nevertheless. It’s a Sunday morning and the first morning of seven rewarding days abroad, a holiday where you can soak up the sun and learn a new language that can take you outside of your comfort zone. You feel the syllables on the tip of your tongue, strange at first, almost erosive but the words come naturally thereafter, they dance a waltz. You see while many of us are content to passively vacation, when we learn to immerse ourselves in a countries culture and make the effort to learn their language, we have a renewed insight into how the locals live. From the way that they interact with ‘fellow peers’ to how learning is centered through ‘being proactive’ , learning a language abroad is arguably the most effective way to ‘assimilate’ yourself into another countries culture as well as taking active steps to communicate with locals in their ‘mother tongue’. While we have all used ‘foreign language books’ or apps to prepare ourselves for a holiday abroad, arguably ‘living or having a short term stay in another country’ is the easiest way to learn their language because you are there in the moment. Don’t believe that ‘going abroad’ helps you learn a language faster? Well read on below to find out more…
You might say that when it comes to preparing yourself for a holiday, that sometimes part of that planning involves learning a word or two of the local language. Naturally there are an abundance of language classes that you can take via Skype or perhaps in a café with a native teacher you found through websites like www.listenandlearn.org. You can even go about it the “old school” way and do something like read a dictionary (although, apps like Duolingo and Babbel are probably a better use of your time, to be honest). But, even though those are all fantastic options, have you ever considered that the holiday experience itself might actually be what enhances your ability to learn and retain that language when you return home? Check out this non-traditional theory of how your holiday experiences may actually teach you the most about the language you want to learn:
In the same way we associate certain smells and sounds with certain situations, memories recalled from our holidays can do the same with our language skills as well. If you were making your way through a city park and overheard a conversation between two dog walkers, for example, it might take you back to a park you spent an afternoon in on holiday and remind you that the word for dog in Spanish is perro. You might even remember words like bonito, or bello for beautiful, and then go on to recall that guapa is what the locals tend to call women affectionately, and guapo, men. There are countless examples of how playing an association game can trigger our memories of learning a foreign language but it is fair to say that it is ‘often slang term’ associations used by the locals (and sometimes swearwords) that we pick up the fastest.
History and culture
Spending your holiday sightseeing in a city and soaking up the local culture while learning its history is a fairly obvious way to lodge some vocabulary in your mind. You might remember that the word for architecture sounds very similar in French, German, or Spanish, recall certain words from hearing the history of the city’s mascots on a free walking tour because the guide was unforgettable, or see a trinket in your local market back home that takes you back to seeing a similar one on holiday. Even something as simple as seeing a ‘historical building’ or a place of worship can help you with learning a language while on holiday, especially if you are a history fanatic like myself, who is naturally in-dispensed to pick up upon what I call ‘history nerd’ vocabularly because it would be a culture and historical era that I would resonate with. And while you might not always get phrases or sentences correct, or not understand the context of what you are saying, learning a language actively is far more effective than a passive approach like an app or book.
Food and drink
Now we all know I love to eat and drink so presumably you would think that the first ‘words’ or sentences that I would be inclined to remember would be associated with food and drink. Well you are completely right; I would make it my mission to ensure that anyone I was communicating with whilst on holiday would understand that I am a vegetarian with dietary requirements and allergies, so that I can make sure that I am not served some slab of meat that will clearly not be making its way into my stomach!
Whether you are a fussy eater or like to try all the dishes you can while on holiday, it’s likely you’ll pick up at least a few words involving food and drink. You might already know arancini, lasagne, and prosciutto from home, but along the way you may also pick up words like speziato (spicy), salvietta (serviette), and posate (cutlery) in Italian as you order and eat your meals. It is also true for some of us that a little alcohol can free the tongue, allowing us a little more confidence to try the language we are trying to practice. So embrace that glass of wine at the bar, or sample the local limoncello. This will both create new memories for you and give you a happy association that will help you to remember your new words.
In truth, your holiday is as individual as you are, so it follows that the language you use and retain will be too. If your preference for a holiday involves a beach and cocktails, the words you need for that will stay with you. If you prefer touring museums and galleries then specific words from the talks you listen to, or the displays, demonstrations, and art you see will stay in your mind. And this is the fun thing about learning, because in these happy scenarios, you barely even have to try! The words you associate with certain memories will stay with you long after you return home. It’s like I said earlier; we are more likely to pick up words that we can ‘associate’ with something that interests us, whereas I find that when someone is speaking in a language that I ‘semi-understand’ but are speaking about something that I am not ‘necessarily interested on’ I tend to switch off and I know that I am not alone. That’s why curating and cultivating holiday experiences where learning the language becomes fun because you are actively pursuing activities that interest you, will be a great way of learning a language when you are abroad.
So, wherever you are taking your holiday this year, what better way to create memories that last forever, what better way to take a ‘little piece of your holiday home than learning a language that can make you feel like you really did make the most of having a holiday abroad.
Do You Think That Holidays Help You Learn A New Language More Effectively Than Apps Or Books?