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Communication Tips & Learning a Language Fast

By: Jonathan Hedley - Updated: 18 Sep 2012 | comments*Discuss
 
Learning A Language Fast Language Tips

Most of us don't have much time to devote ourselves to a crash language course before going away, and thanks to the fact that our language is spoken so universally few of us even think of it as a major issue.

Not wanting to spend our precious holiday funds on a language course that may pay no dividends whatsoever is perfectly understandable - in fact, it would very probably be a complete waste of money. Certainly the best, and some would say the only, way to learn a language is to go to the country where it's spoken.

Full Immersion

Immersing yourself in the culture brings more results in just a few days than most language courses lasting months, but only if you apply yourself. Obviously you'll need to get a few basics down beforehand, as well as a couple of fundamental tools (e.g. a phrasebook), so here are a few tips for doing so.

  • On one side of a sheet of paper, write down the first 50 or so words and short phrases that come into your head that you think will be essential, together with their translations. These will include all the basic greetings and niceties ('hello', 'please', 'thank you', 'yes', 'no'), numbers, and the pronunciation of letters of the alphabet. On the same side, note down any particular pronunciation rules that differ from English. For example in Spanish, a double 'L' makes a 'Y' sound, so 'paella' is pronounced 'paeya'.
  • On the other side of the sheet of paper, write down the ten or so most important irregular verbs. Which verbs these are will depend slightly on the language - a decent phrasebook should help you decide - but will certainly contain 'to be', 'to have' and 'to do'. Translate these verbs with their conjugations in the present - I am/you are/he is; I have/you have/he has; I do/you do/he does; etc.
  • Carry this piece of paper around with you and pull it out at every opportunity to read through it - on the train, on the toilet, in the waiting room when you go to get your jabs. Sheer saturation will penetrate even the most impermeable mind. By the time you get to the airport departure lounge you should be able to start forming very basic conversations in your head.
  • On the plane/train/magic carpet - whatever your mode of transit - you begin to think in your new foreign language, and you don't stop again until the end of your trip. From this point on, every time an opportunity presents itself for you to use a word you know, do it. Even if it's just one word in a sentence full of English words. A lot of people put a lot of stock in keeping your ears open - and this is essential - but you also have to keep your mouth open. Half the battle is training the muscles in your mouth to get used to uttering the words at a speed that's not painful to listen to.

Here you have your basic tools, and you'd be surprised how much the above steps can set you on your way. Taking these basic steps, which require minimum time expenditure, opens the floodgates when you become fully immersed in the culture.

Necessity is the Mother of all Invention

A basic smattering of the language opens up endless possibilities and increases your enjoyment of the whole experience tenfold. To your hosts, it raises your status from that of 'Stupid Tourist' to 'Cultured Intellectual Philanthropist'. At this point you make friends and communicate fervently, tapping into a wealth of resources you never even knew you had - a whole dictionary of spontaneous hand signals, a sudden sensitivity to body language, the art of mime and expression, even invention of words.

All of these things contribute to the nurturing of your relationship with the place - those first thrilling steps of realisation when you suddenly get a glimpse, through speaking the language, of something indefinable about the people and the culture.

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