Thursday, April 10, 2008

Learning a Language While Travelling

I've got a hot tip for anybody who wishes they could converse a bit with the locals when abroad. I am particularly ungifted at learning languages, yet this has worked even for me.

You'll need an iPod or some other MP3 player, and about US$30

The tip is to buy and use Pimsleur Conversational language courses. They are excellent and so well made that they are almost fun to use. Each course is 16 lessons, each 30 minutes long. No grammar, real phrases, and stuff you can use from day 1. You can get them on the web, for example Amazon.

I first tried Pimsleur's Spanish lessons while in South America. Each evening I lay on my bed in my hotel room doing the lesson. Then I would immediately go out and use a few of the words I learned with my hotel clerk or in a restaurant, or with whoever I happened to meet. After a few days I tried the phrase with a local in Colombia, "I want to eat something". I was flabbergasted when she understood perfectly what I said and then responded with an exact phrase I had also learned that day - which I could also answer. A week later I was able to go into a Colombia travel agency and buy tickets, while only speaking Spanish.

After 4 weeks of such lessons my girlfriend joined me and I felt pleased - and maybe a little smug - as her jaw drop when I got into an easy conversations in Spanish, even if they were only basic conversations.

I've since used this same technique to learn a little Swahili in Kenya and Tanzania, a spattering of Hebrew in Israel, and enough French to understand hotel and restaurant staff. It's a great feeling to achieve this, doubly so for me because I always got terrible grades in languages at school.

Particularly fun was Swahili. As a tourist in Zanzibar, for example, I was a magnet for people trying to hawk things. But when I would say in Swahili "No thank you, I am not interested", the whole interaction would change for the better. And other tourists would wonder how I got to know such a language.

1 comment:

Pimsleur Direct said...

Glad to hear you like the courses. You certainly do enough globe-trotting to finish every language in the series, which would be quite a feat!