Learning the Local Language: Guest Post by Jessica Marshall

Jessica Marshall and her twin sister, Shannon, have spoken their way through Mexico, Spain, and Chile. They help travelers like them make the most out of their trips abroad by having confident conversations in Spanish. Before your next trip, get the 3-part, “Speak with Locals” guide that will have you speaking Spanish as soon as you land: speakwithlocals.com

It’s my first night in Madrid and Spain is playing in the Euro Cup Final. THE FINAL. To be honest, I’m not much of a soccer/football fan, but what an incredible, cultural experience, right?! So, naturally, I run to the nearest souvenir shop and buy the jersey and flag.

I literally just arrived a few hours ago so I had no idea where the action would be. I breathlessly tracked down a waiter (who was miraculously balancing 5 drinks on his tray when I approached him) and asked in Spanish, “Where can I watch the game?!” He told me to go to Santiago Bernabéu metro stop where a huge screen would be outside of the stadium playing the match. And he promised there would be tons of locals there too. I was sold.

Now... onto my next challenge - navigating the metro system. I'll be the first to admit directions aren’t my strong suit... in English. Add a different language and a new city on top of that and... yeahhhh... I’m surprised I didn’t spend my first night lost in the metro! Thankfully, I drew upon my Spanish skills again to ask a local (dressed head-to-toe in Spain’s red and yellow) for help. He told me I needed to be on the other side of the station andthat I’d take the metro for 3 stops. GRACIAS, AMIGO!!

I finally made it and I was definitely not disappointed. There were crowds of locals repping their Spain gear, cheering and chanting. There was tinto de verano everywhere and music blasting. My sister and I (being the social butterflies we are), made friends with a big group of locals, all thanks to our Spanish skills. In fact, we hung out with them later on in our trip!

I felt so grateful to be sharing in this once-in-a-lifetime experience. I had the chance to watch Spain win the EuroCup on my first night in Spain. I owed this night, and a lot of my other amazing travel experiences, to a little bit of luck and, more importantly, to knowing the local language. Not only did I find out about this impressive congregation of Madrilenos (and made friends with them), but I also successfully navigated my way to the action.

Speaking the local language makes it easier to get around and connect with people, but did you know that learning a second language could improve your love life, too? A recent study of 270 dating sites found that 97% of sites ask customers if they are multilingual. Why? Learning another language is considered sexy. And, of course, your pool of eligible bachelors gets a whole lot bigger. Studies suggest that speaking a second language is great for your brain, too! It can improve cognitive skills unrelated to language and even shield against dementia in your old age.

So... how do you learn the local language? And get it done quickly? Here are some steps you can follow:

1. Write out scripts

I know, I know. I’m an over-preparer (is that a thing?!). So naturally, I LOVE writing and practicing scripts. On my first-ever trip abroad (I went to Puebla, Mexico), I wrote down common Spanish phrases and practiced them in my bathroom mirror (and had to convince my roommates that I wasn’t talking to myself). I prepared different scripts for introducing myself, going to the supermarket, and ordering food at a restaurant. Pretty soon, these phrases started to flow easily and naturally in conversation; I didn’t need to rehearse my scripts anymore.

Here’s my introduction script (in English):

“Hi! My name is Jessica and I am from New Jersey. I’m going to be in Puebla for four months. I work as a Family Worker in a preschool. I like to dance bachata. What do you like to do? What should I do during my trip here?”

You can look up how to say similar phrases in your target language! Customize it so that you can talk about your profession, trip plans, interests, etc. Here is a great resource to look up phrases in your target language: http://www.omniglot.com/language/phrases/index.htm#lang.

Don’t know how to pronounce your script? Go to http://forvo.com/ and type in the words to hear how they’re pronounced.

2. Start speaking right away

According to many polyglots, like Benny Lewis (founder of Fluent in 3 months), you should start speaking the target language as soon as your first week of learning it. Before you start hyperventilating, they go on to say that you shouldn’t focus so much on accuracy or being perfect. PHEW!! That’s a relief!

Before your trip, you can talk to a native speaker by checking out this resource: www.iTalki.com. The more you practice with a native speaker, the more grammar and vocabulary you’ll pick up and the more comfortable you will become with your new language.

3. Immerse yourself in the language (even before your trip!)

When you are traveling/living abroad, you’re at a distinct advantage when it comes to learning the language of the locals - you’re completely immersed in it! You read the signs, peruse the menus, hear conversations on the train, speak to the woman at the market, etc. According to Stephen Krashen, renowned linguist and researcher, you are likely to “acquire” the grammar of your target language subconsciously just by being in the place where it is spoken and written all around you.

But can you start acquiring a new language by sitting in bed with your sweatpants on, eating cookie-dough ice cream right out of the container? Great news! YOU CAN! Buy your favorite movie/tv series in your target language! In Madrid, I bought a bunch of The Office DVDs in Spanish - I know the series so well that I understood the Spanish words and phrases easily (and didn’t have to worry about figuring out the plot).

You might want to check out FluentU (http://www.fluentu.com/) to listen to commercials, advertisements, and movie trailers in your language of choice!

4. Practice the most frequent words and phrases

Lastly, review the list of words that are most common in the language you’re learning. Certain language courses, like Fluency Fast, teach the highest frequency vocabulary and phrases with great success.

Here’s where you can find frequency lists: https://en.wiktionary.org/wiki/Wiktionary:Frequency_lists

Follow these four steps and I have the utmost confidence that you’ll learn the language quickly and get to meet the awesome locals in your new city. I’m going to end this on a philosophical note (because I’m cheesy like that):

“The limits of my language are the limits of my universe” -Ludwig Wittgenstein

Are you learning a new language? Share your experiences in the comment section below!

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