Are you planning a bicycle tour outside of your home country? In a place where they don’t speak your native language? If so, don’t fret! This is going to be fun! And you might just learn a new language in the process!
This past summer I traveled overseas for the first time in my life and spent a month-and-a-half in Germany, Poland, and the Czech Republic (Although most of my time was spent in Germany).
Before I left on tour, I purchased a set of “Learn In Your Car” language tapes from Amazon.com and listened to the tapes every night before I went to sleep. By the time I arrived in Germany just a few months later, I was far from fluent, but I was able to ask for directions and understand the instructions that were given back to me.
If it weren’t for the basic German that I had learned before leaving home, I would have had a terrible time navigating my way throughout the country. But because I had taken just a few minutes each day to study the language and learn what I could, I was able to enjoy my travels that much more… and I was proud of myself for having learned to communicate (even if it were rather cryptic).
If you’re anything like me, you probably studied a foreign language in high school or college (or maybe both), but never learned a thing! You learned just enough to pass the tests and immediately forget everything you had just spent so much time studying.
In my case, I studied Spanish for two years in high school and also took three years of Latin (two years in high school and one year in college), but to this day I can’t tell you more than ten words in either one of these languages. Five years of study provided me with absolutely no foreign language skills and had apparently stifled any desire I might ever have for learning another language. That is… until I planned this most recent tour through Germany.
Part of the problem I had with learning a new language in the past was the way I thought about language in the first place.
When I was in high school and college, I never understood why learning another language was a part of our curriculum. I didn’t think it was important. Even though I lived in Southern California (where Spanish is the second most prominent language), I had never needed to speak Spanish to get by. And I had never heard another person speak Latin even once in my entire life. The only reason I took Latin in high school was because I thought it would help me with my SAT tests. And the only reason I took Latin in college was because I had to take the class in order to graduate.
But when I made up my mind to go to Germany, I began to realize how important learning a foreign language could become. While I had probably met only a handful of Germans in my entire life, I knew that when I arrived in Germany I would be an outsider and that my success in the country would be entirely up to me.
For the first time in my life, I didn’t see learning a foreign language as a chore, but as something fun to do! I wanted to ride my bike in Germany and I wanted the tour to be a success, so learning the language was just something I had to do to make both of my goals become a reality. The best part about learning German now was that I was going to have fun doing it (namely because it wasn’t being forced on me, but was something I had decided to do on my own).
Now that I’m back in the States, I’m still studying German and trying to learn as much as I can. I’m planning to return to Germany in the near future and hope that my German skills are one hundred times better than when I was there last summer.
If you are planning a tour outside of your home country – in a place where they don’t speak your native language, consider learning as much of that language as you can before you leave home. Not only will it make the tour that much easier for you, but you might just have some fun in the process.
To help you get started on your road to foreign language success, here is what I recommend:
Purchase some sort of language tapes or CDs that you can listen to on your computer, in your car, or on your iPod or other MP3 device. I recommend the Learn In Your Car Language Courses (available in Spanish, French, German, Chinese, Russian, Italian, Japanese and English), but there are other language programs available that would likely give you the same or more assistance in learning your new language. I’ve heard some wonderful things about the Rosetta Stone software programs, but I have no personal experience with the software. In the end, any of these programs/tapes will provide you with enough skills to get you by in a foreign speaking country.
Next, subscribe to as many language Podcasts as you can. If you have Apple iTunes installed on your computer, go to the Music Store and type in the name of the language you are hoping to learn (i.e. German, French, Italian, etc). There will be a number of Podcasts to choose from and now all you have to do is listen and learn. (You can download Apple iTunes for free here.) Another valuable Podcast resource for learning foreign languages can be found at the Radio Lingua Network at: www.radiolingua.com. They have a number of free and subscription Podcasts available in a variety of different languages.
Start watching TV in the language you are going to be visiting. You can watch TV via the Internet in just about any country on earth by visiting: http://wwitv.com
Finally, buy a book in the language you want to learn and start translating it one word at a time. This has helped me more than any other technique and now that I’ve been translating for some time, I am almost finished reading an entire book in German! I started with a book titled, “German: Reading For Meaning.” I translate a paragraph or more every day and am now able to read large sections of the book without having to look up even a single word!
The most important part about learning a foreign language is that you have fun doing it! If you aren’t having fun, then you aren’t going to learn anything. I can speak from experience! You’ve got to want to learn the language and you’ve got to make it fun for yourself. Do those two things and there is nothing that can stop you!
If you’ve got a idea or suggestion on how to learn a foreign language, I’d love to hear about it! And I’m sure other readers would love to hear about it as well. Please use the comments box below and let us know what we can do to improve our foreign language skills.
Also, das ist alles. Danke… und ciao!