Does ‘learning the language’ really impact your travel experience? I’m about to find out.
❝Language is the road map of a culture. It tells you where its people come from and where they are going.❞Rita Mae Brown
While I’ve stayed put for the first half of 2019, the tail end is a whirlwind of travel. I’m going to be traversing the globe, visiting old faves (here’s looking at you, Cabo), exploring the jungles of Tulum, hitting my third Hawaiian island, Maui, and taking in some awesome concerts. First up on the list, though, is my first ever trip to Italy with a stop in Monte Carlo.
I love traveling. I’m privileged to be able to do as much as I do, and I love seeing my fellow Millennials and especially young POCs getting into it as well. The more places I go, the more I want to see and the greater my desire to really dig into destinations, broaden my horizons, enrich my travel experiences and deepen my appreciation of local cultures.
Why Learn the Language?
Good Will & Good Manners
When I’m visiting a country I feel like a guest in someone’s home. It’s only polite that I make an effort to learn a few niceties in the local language. You may be embarrassed to try, but in my experience, an attempted ‘hello’, ‘goodbye’ and ‘how are you?’ will almost always be met with enthusiasm. Not ready to bust out a full sentence? Ask someone local like a driver (ubers are amazing sources of info), shop owner or wait staff to help with your pronunciation or give you the word for something. It can start a great conversation and shows an appreciation for the local culture.
Get the Goods
We all want that seasoned traveler thrill of having a local reveal the location of a special spot or learning about the secret ingredient every nonna in a secluded town uses in their sauce — but you gotta build up trust before you get the goods. Offering even just a few words (or attempted words) in the local language can help you build rapport with those willing to share their knowledge of local customs, hot spots, things to do and more. We’ve all had that one vacation experience that ‘made’ the whole trip. Making friends with the locals is your short cut for getting there.
Safety, Transportation & Moola, Baby
Asking for directions, giving directions, negotiating prices and converting currency are all things we’re likely to do on vacation. And every single one of those is easier with a little knowledge of the local language. Same goes in an emergency. We all hope that vacations end with everyone in good health and in one piece but things can happen. Do you know how to ask for help or for police? What about asking where you can find a bathroom or a good place for lunch? Being vegan, it’s also very important that I can read ingredients and explain dietary restrictions. While you may not be able to ask your entire question, even just knowing how to ask whether or not someone speaks/understands English can save you time, money and frustration.
Keeping this things in mind I’ve partnered with Pimsleur to learn as much Italian as I can before we hit the ground in Milan this June.
There are lots (LOTS) of language learning programs out there. In my quest to learn Spanish I tried what felt like most of them — including apps and games like Duolingo (which I still love for fun). While I learned tons of vocabulary ( I have a good memory and vocab was always one of my strongest subjects) I always struggled when it came time to put actual sentences together.
Pimsleur promises to have you speaking a new language at an intermediate level in just 30 days — provided you follow the program to a T and do a lesson each day. One of the things I like about the program is that you begin learning sentences with provided context right away. Most of the time you start a lesson by listening to a conversation. The audio will provide the context before beginning. Then it’s broken into words and phrases with repetition. Long or difficult to pronounce words are broken into syllables from last to first — forcing you to concentrate and improving your pronunciation (my #1 reason for refusing to speak when I’m on vacation). Next, you play one of the roles in the same conversation. There’s a pause for you to say your line before the audio does. Having a ‘ticking clock’ creates a little pressure, which actually makes me listen more closely and with more focus. This type of learning structure made it easy for my brain to begin thinking in sentence format. In addition, I start off learning from conversations I’m likely to have like ‘pretend you see a woman in a cafe and you want to ask the time’. Most classes or books start with long lists of vocab that include things like numbers or colors. Good information to learn, yes, but less likely to come in handy on my next trip unless someone asks me to count backward from 10.
While repetition is part of all the Pimsleur courses, they frown upon mindless repeating or ‘drumming it in’. Dr. Paul Pimsleur began developing his memory-training technique decades ago. In his study, he found that optimizing repetition intervals and introducing new information at the right time could dramatically improve language retention and develop long term memory – the thing we need to achieve fluency. They also provide tools for visual learners (like me) using flashcards, quizzes, and ‘speed rounds’ to improve language skills. While I am not yet fluent in Spanish, I felt a definitive improvement in my skill on the next trip. So much so, that my BF (who is already mostly fluent) and several natives complimented me on my ability to speak and understand.
‘Io capisco un po’ l’italiano.’
So far I’ve taken my first 2 lessons and I can already say ‘Io capisco un po’ l’italiano’ which means ‘I understand a little Italian’. Massive improvement from my previous ‘I think ‘ciao’ means goodbye’. I’m pretty proud of myself because ‘capisco’ is hard to pronounce properly while brushing ones’ teeth. But, just so you all can watch me improve and see how I find time to learn and practice, I’m going to be tracking my progress here and on Instagram with more posts and videos leading up to my trip as well as my experience using my Italian on during vacation.
Ciao, Bella! (I knew that one already)
Interested in learning more about Pimsleur or maybe even purchasing the course for yourself? Click here. Your first week is free and it’s $14.95 per month thereafter!*
*Please note: as a Pimsleur Partner I may be compensated for purchases made through the links in this post at no extra charge to you.