Imagine you’re in Argentina far away from the next city. You’re on the road for 3 or more hours to see the outback and the nice landscapes. Then you see a gaucho, a old man. You want to ask him for the next gas station, but the man only speaks Spanish. Luckily you learned the language before you went there.
You have a little smalltalk with him and he invites you to his home to drink some yerba mate with him and his family. You go with him and become friends with him for the rest of your life.
Exactly this happened to a good friend of us, and similar stories have happened to us too.
We know you question right now, how can you learn a language?
A lot of people think it takes years of learning to get to a conversational level in a new language. But thats not true at all. You can get to a very good level in 3 months if you follow the right strategy.
Because Carla speaks 4 Languages Fluently and I’m currently learning Spanish we think that we got a lot of tips to share with you guys.
Before we talk about specific strategies we need to talk about motivation, because motivation is king. Without it you will never achieve a good level in any language. It doesn’t matter if you learn mandarin or Spanish.
You need to have a crystal clear goal on why you want to learn the language. For me, my goal is to speak Spanish until the end of the year because we will travel through latin america and carla’s family doesn’t speak english.
As you can see my goal is very specific and yours should be too.
2. 20/80 or Pareto
20/80 means that you learn the 20% of vocabulary what is used 80% of the time.
For example with the 300 most used words in Spanish you are able to understand 50% of spoken Spanish and with the 1000 most used words you will understand 80% of it.
Focus on the important words, the ones which are relevant to you and the topics you talk about. For example if you like football learn the words you need to talk about it. You don’t need to know what turtle means in Spanish at the beginning if you are never going to use it.
But how do we learn all that words?
An SRS, or Spaced Repetition System, is a set of smart digital flashcards.
The more you get something right, the longer it is before you see it again, streamlining practice and making sure you are reminded of the word just before you were about to forget it (when recall creates the strongest memory).
I use and recommend Anki for this, but Memrise or Mosalinga are another popular solution.
This is the fastest way to drill lots of words and conjugations into your head. Make sure to put English on the front to train recall not recognition.
Make sure to actually use the words you learn in speech as much and soon as possible, as actually using them is still the way to create the strongest memory (and stops you from having to think about what the word is, so the Spanish just comes out like English would).
4. Active listening
I made the mistake, and a lot of people do it too. People told us “Hey bro you just have to listen a lot or watch a lot of tv in the language you want to learn then you’ll speak it in no time”
Yes, listening a lot is great and you should do it but just passive listening won’t bring you anywhere.
Instead try to do it active. Be focused when you listen. Reading along while listening to the audio will help you a lot. My secret tip here is Netflix. I use it a lot, not just to watch series, but to really study with it.
I take for example narcos and watch 10 minutes in Spanish, the language I’m learning, with my native subtitles. Then I watch the same 10 minutes but this time with Spanish subtitles. Then I write all words I don’t understand into my notebook. You will see it is really effective.
5. Speak from day one
We know here we have a controversial topic because the language learning scene splits in two.
The one side thinks that you need to have a lot of input through meaningful content before you can start speaking. And we agree that you need a lot of meaningful content too.
And the other side says that you should start speaking from day one to get more practice speaking.
Well honestly I think it depends on your personality. If you you can get through the phase where you need 5 minutes for a easy sentence without getting discourage you should speak from day one.
If you really don’t like that, and you don’t feel comfortable, start just saying one simple sentence at least. Then learn a bit more but don’t wait to long and start speaking. We recommend to start speaking as soon as possible. I saw so many people who learned years and years and never got to the point of speaking. And not because they didn’t know the words, they just never put them into practice.
I can say that after 3 Months of studying Spanish my grammar is still not good. And I can’t express myself like I want to. But I can tell you I understand most of what people want from me and I would be able to convince a gaucho to invite me for a yerba mate.
Do we think that learning a language will enrich your travelling? Yes we do
Do we think you should start learning a new language today? Yes we do
So does speaking the language enrich my experience?
We really believe it does. Now, it doesn’t mean that you have to learn the thousands of languages that exist in the world. We won’t do it either. But we do believe that being able to communicate in their language gives you a different experience that you may not get otherwise.
Mostly because people always feel more comfortable in their own language. And why would you invite someone over, or spend a lot of time with someone you are not able to talk with?
We got to experience how people react when they don’t expect you to speak the language, and all of the sudden you speak to them in their language. Their faces just change, and turn into a big smile.
And we personally hate going to a place, and not being able to communicate with the people. You are missing out on so many things people have to tell you. So, at least for longer stays, I’m pretty sure we will always try to at least being able to say a couple things.
“If you talk to a man in a language he understands, that goes to his head. If you talk to him in his language, that goes to his heart” – Nelson Mandela
We hope you enjoy reading about why we think that learning languages is important and how you should learn them. We want to help you to get always the best travel experience. If you want tips on how to travel the world on a low budget then you should download our FREE E-Book with the best tips on How to Travel the World with 30$ a day.