“Howdy! Jambo! Hola…I mean, hi!” So I’m guessing a countdown has begun for your next trip to a new country–consider me jealous! You’re thinking about what to pack when to apply for your visas, where to go if you need any immunizations. In other words, getting completely prepared and excited!

But what about how you’re going to communicate with the locals?

Having some basic conversational language should definitely be a big part of your to-do list for that new destination and you’re in luck! We’ve got your back!

So, I’ve always considered myself to be somewhat of a nerd. Kristen would agree. I’ve always liked school and I’ve always had a knack for learning languages.

It certainly comes in handy when it’s time to pick our next place to visit. When we decide on a place, I always start thinking ahead and I immediately look for resources I can use to start teaching myself the new language conversationally.

You might be asking yourself, “why would you go through all that trouble?” Personally, I think it is the utmost form of respect from a cultural standpoint and it shows that you actually care when you can speak to someone in their own language (and it’s fun if you’re a nerd like me!).

It also makes it possible to build strong bonds. When Kristen and I went to Tanzania I made a lifelong friend. I met a brother I never knew I had. Our bond was strengthened in a short time because we were able to communicate with each other on multiple levels- his and mine.

We found ourselves switching from English to Swahili at the drop of a hat. This brought us closer and made for experiences that further enriched our friendship and our minds!

That relationship, over a year later, still exists. Kristen always gets a good chuckle when she’s in the office and hears Alex and I speaking on Facetime in Swahili with each other. She immediately knows that I’m on the phone with my Masai brother.

Okay, now where do you start? There are so many different ways you can prepare. These are some of my best methods that push me through the difficulties of a language barrier.


Smartphone Apps

If you have a fancy smartphone (and most of us totally do these days), the apps are endless. While you can pay for extended versions and ad-free versions, a lot of them are free. My personal favorite is Duolingo (with Babbel following in a close second).

Duolingo has a great user interface. The lessons are provided to you in groups and you aren’t allowed to move on to the next one until you’ve mastered the one before.

It only gives you a certain amount of tries before you run out of “health” and you have to wait to start the lesson again. I like this approach because it makes you practice and practice and practice some more until the lessons begin to make sense. The phone apps are easy to download and each one comes pre-programmed with a plethora of languages.

Before we left for Tanzania, I downloaded Duolingo and went through the lessons in Swahili for about a month. By the time we left I was speaking it conversationally!

Now, depending on your aptitude some might pick it up faster than others. But whatever your ability to retain is, it is all about practice and repetition.

If you’re asking yourself when you might find the time, have no fear. I hop on the app on my break during work, or when I’m doing cardio on the stationary bike at the gym.

Pop in some headphones and you’re in your own virtual classroom. I promise you that you can totally handle it if you create a pace for yourself and stick to it.


Computer Programs

For the big spenders out there, or the ones who plan at least six months ahead, you can also purchase a lesson kit like Rosetta Stone. These kits usually come with downloads for your computer and have both an audio and visual aspect.

Most of the time they also come with access to a live tutor that you can communicate with if you have any questions. A program like Rosetta Stone is usually all-encompassing. It comes with pre-programmed lesson plans, homework, and study guides.

While an option like this isn’t usually as portable as something you would find in a phone app, you definitely get a big bang for your buck.

So if your goal is to be more than just conversational and really immerse yourself in another language, this is definitely a great option.


Media Options

But what if your language isn’t programmed in any app and you don’t want to spend a lot of money on something similar to Rosetta Stone? My ride or die would definitely have to be YouTube.

There is so much useful information on YouTube and when it comes to learning a new language, that can really work to your advantage.

Searching for your language on YouTube is fairly simple. Using phrases like “learn how to speak X language” or “tutoring for X language” will usually be enough to prompt the search box to provide some recommended phrases.

Once you hit enter, you can start scrolling through videos to your heart’s content. The reason why I like this option (and why I like to couple it with an app like Duolingo) is that I consider myself more of a visual learner.

The videos usually come with visual explanations of the language you’re trying to learn and they tend to spell things out and show you pronunciations (sometimes much more clearly than Duolingo) as opposed to just telling you how a word or phrase should sound.

Watching these videos also gives you the option to take your own notes and organize your own tables or flashcards. This is definitely a plus when it comes to mastering a new language.

For example, do you know how hard it is to find an app that teaches you how to speak Nepali? Yes, my new mission. Our next big trip is going to be to Nepal and Tibet and I am totally taking on the challenge of teaching myself how to speak Nepali and standard Tibetan.

I couldn’t find it in any of my apps so I’m sure you can guess where I went. Right to YouTube. All I had to do was search something like “Learn how to speak Nepali,” and you wouldn’t believe what comes up!

It’s endless! I’ll admit, while YouTube is not always as organized as the language apps or programs like Rosetta Stone, it is certainly better than nothing and you can usually watch a few different videos and combine what you learn to come up with your own little lesson plans (Kristen is definitely great with helping me organize those).


Real World Practice

Once you choose an option that works best for you and a language that you’re interested in, I would suggest hopping on Google to search for a “practice pal.” While I still talk to Alex on an almost daily basis, I was speaking with him and practicing my Swahili before we ever even left for Tanzania!

While you might not always have this opportunity, it definitely makes a HUGE difference when you’re able to talk with someone who is a native speaker.

Having a great practice ethic is one thing, but when you push yourself out of your comfort zone to reach others, you can almost always find someone willing to converse with you!


Practice Makes Perfect

Regardless of what option you use to teach yourself, you might be asking how long should you practice for before you leave for that awesome trip you’re taking?

Again, it depends on how quickly you’re able to pick up on languages. I would say it’s a very subjective thing, but my general rule of thumb is that you should give yourself at least two months.

That should give you enough time to learn the basics (i.e., greetings, numbers, important phrases). However, if you know where your next trip is and you have the next six months to a year to plan and you’re interested in nerding out like me, then start as early as you can! You can never know too much of another language.

So there it is. One of my favorite nerdy bits about traveling. Are there any apps or programs that you love and wouldn’t mind sharing? Any tips and tricks from any fellow polyglots out there? Share them with us! We would love to hear from you—in any language of course!


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3 thoughts on “5 Ways to Boost Conversational Language for your Travels

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  3. It’s hard to find knowledgeable people on this topic, but you sound like you know what you’re talking about! Thanks

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