40 lessons for those afraid of speaking new languages abroad
Nervous about speaking a foreign language? Traveling abroad is one of the best ways to become confident and learn. Use these 40 tips to overcome your fear of speaking new languages on your next trip with Worldpackers.
Aug 29, 2019
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At the last Worldpackers Travel Meet-Up in São Paulo, a lot of travelers asked questions and expressed concerns related to speaking (or not being able to speak) foreign languages during a trip abroad.
Much of the conversation revolved around alternative ways to learn.
Many people asked about how to overcome the fear of speaking a foreign language or talking to foreigners while traveling. We discussed the importance of everyday language in a work exchange or volunteer trip, and exchanged ideas about why traveling helps incite confidence and boost excitement about learning a new language.
There were so many cool and extremely useful tips shared in the conversation that I decided to put them all together and write this article. This piece was inspired not only by the answers shared by travelers themselves, but also by my own experience learning languages, as I've been studying (and speaking) English since high school.
Before I traveled and became fluent in English, I was afraid I wouldn't have a good job because I didn't speak fluently. English is very often required as a second language in my country, and most good companies test for fluency when hiring. Since then, I've had many years of practice and learned a lot of lessons along the way.
The truth is that speaking other languages is about one thing and one thing only: practice.
The 40 tips I've shared below are about how to get real-time practice in a language because come on, you have to speak it in order to learn it!
40 lessons for those afraid of speaking new languages abroad
1. Anyone can learn a new language. It's easier for some and harder for others, but there's one thing that never changes: the more you practice, the better you get.
2. One of the best ways to learn a new language is by reading books, watching movies and TV series, listening to music, and speaking with others.
3. The first time you watch something in a new language without subtitles, you won't understand most of it. Maybe it'll take you a few times to get it. Even so, keep at it. Soon enough, your understanding will deepen, and the language as a whole will begin to make more sense.
4. Unless you want to become a language teacher or a translator, grammar should not be the first thing on your list. Focus on getting comfortable speaking first!
5. It doesn't matter that much if you are saying a sentence perfectly or applying every single grammar rule. The important thing is that you can communicate and be understood.
6. Don't be ashamed of your accent. Believe me, every accent has its charm.
7. Language schools only work if you're willing to use their methods to learn. Remember that schools often have a standardized system that is offered to many different types of students who all have different learning processes. It's very likely that you have a faster and more efficient personal method that will speed up your individual learning process.
8. If you've tried learning new languages in the past and have been disappointed, don't let it dominate your experience. Give it another try. Speaking and being able to communicate in another language is so great!
9. Today there are dozens of apps to help you learn languages. Better yet, most of them are free! Duolingo is my favorite.
10. If you're learning a new language because it's an obligation, it's not going to go well. You have to want it. Otherwise, it's better to invest your time and money in something else you enjoy.
11. Having a second or third language on your CV isn't as important as actually knowing how to communicate in those languages.
12. Courses and school certificates are worth nothing to the people who will hire you. What counts is that you can actually communicate with people that speak other languages. That's why many hiring processes require interviews in different languages. (Unless you are participating in a process that asks for a certificate of proficiency, for example).
13. Fluency comes from practice. Having someone speak with you in the language you are trying to learn is by far the best homework you can get.
14. The best way to practice speaking is to travel to the country where the language you are learning is spoken fluently. Immerse yourself!
15. Not comfortable traveling with your current language level? Embrace insecurity and have some faith! You'll only get better when you cross that bridge. Traveling is about finding new ways to step out of your comfort zone. This includes taking risks and facing your fears head on, including your fear of speaking new languages!
16. Is it worth doing a month of language school before you travel? If you want to be a step ahead of the game, a private tutor or conversation class will make you move forward faster. Anything that encourages you to practice speaking will help you improve dramatically.
17. If you're planning on doing a Worldpackers exchange to learn a language and you only want to go to countries where the language you want to learn is the mother tongue, you may end up meeting other travelers from your own country. They're there to learn, too.
18. If you take a trip to a place and find yourself surrounded by travelers from your home country, know that you don't have to force yourself to only have local friends. Friendships will happen naturally, and the people from your country are your strongest link to the life you left behind. Just remember to make friends with people from other places too!
19. If you want to learn a new language and are willing to follow an unconventional path to get there, have no fear! For example, although most people who want to learn English while traveling tend to visit the United States, Canada, Ireland, UK, Australia, and New Zealand, there are many other countries where English is also spoken. This is also the case for several other languages. There are many bilingual and trilingual countries where you can practice learning a new language; you don't have to limit yourself to the "typical" or "traditional" places.
20. If you're learning a new language at the basic or beginner-intermediate level, go to a country where your desired language is not the native language. That way you don't face the pressure to communicate well with the local crowd. In other words, if you say something wrong, it doesn't matter so much! Instead, you can practice your desired language with other travelers who also speak it. The more you practice, the more confident you'll become speaking.
21. Want to learn Spanish? Spanish has overcome English in the world ranking and is now the second-most widely spoken language in the world (after Mandarin Chinese). If you love traveling, speaking Spanish offers access to an incredibly wide range of countries and cultures. In fact, Spanish is the official language in a staggering 21 countries spanning four continents! This means that there are countless opportunities to learn Spanish during a Worldpackers exchange in North America, Central America, and South America, as well as in Africa and Europe!
22. Don't be the person who makes fun of your friend's accent. This will only stop them from continuing to speak, practice, and improve. Instead, encourage and embolden them by speaking the language with them!
23. Don't be the one to speak your native language at an international table just because you have met someone from your home country. Even if there's only one foreign person sitting at your table, encourage the rest to speak a common language for everyone.
24. Someone spoke to you and you didn't understand? Politely ask the person to speak more slowly. If they're also a language learner, this person will be friendly because they've been in your shoes. And if they're a native speaker of the language you're learning, they'll also be friendly because they know how much work it is to learn a new language.
25. Someone asked you for something and you didn't understand? Ask them to ask you again. Still didn't get it the second time? Think about the context, their body language and how they speak (tone of voice and inflection). Chances are you'll surprise yourself and understand what they're asking.
26. Many people — especially travelers — speak multiple languages. If you’re unsuccessfully trying to communicate in one language, test another! Take a chance and use any language you can. (Especially in emergencies!)
27. Regardless of the country you travel to, a hostel is always the best place to meet people, make friends while traveling, and speak different languages. Worldpackers overs 2,000 opportunities to work in hostels, so if you're itching to learn a new language, it's worth checking a hostel guide to see if the hostel experience is right for you.
28. Hostels have guests from many different backgrounds who speak languages in different accents and at varying levels of proficiency. In most cases they'll be learners like you, not native speakers of all languages. Everyone is truly in the same boat, so there's no reason to worry about your accent, speaking incorrectly, or improvising.
29. Hostel guests are usually very friendly and open to having a chat with other travelers. Take a deep breath, forget about fear and begin with a simple "What's your name?"
30. During your Worldpackers travel experience, you'll make the most progress learning a second language while working. If you work in a hostel, you'll be part of a collaborative, interactive environment, and you'll have to socialize and rise to the occasion to communicate with guests, co-workers and other work-exchangers. Basically, you'll be set.
31. Yes, one drink will make it easier to speak in another language.
32. Speak as much as you can, about as many topics as possible. Participate in conversations that challenge you to push your language skills a step further. The more you speak, the more sentences will naturally form in your mind.
33. Once a second language becomes part of your everyday life, you'll start dreaming in it. It's so crazy!
34. If you progress slowly, don't give up. Keep showing up and participating in conversations. Continue to practice speaking as much as possible... until all of a sudden, you'll realize you're speaking with ease.
35. There's a magical moment when you'll realize that you no longer need to think about every word before you speak. The words just start to come out naturally.
36. When you return from your Worldpackers trip abroad (if you ever do), you'll realize that after a while you will lose some of the naturalness of speaking a second or third language. Don't worry, it happens to everyone. After all, it's normal to lose a bit of your fluency when a language is no longer part of your everyday life.
37. On your next trip after that, just a few days after your arrival, you'll see that everything you learned is still there, and you haven't forgotten anything. It's just a matter of dusting it off a bit.
38. Staying in touch with the friends you make while traveling is a great way to keep your languages fresh.
39. Unless you spend decades in another country, you'll always have an accent.
40. Speaking another language is just like riding a bike. Once you've learned it...