English Anyone? Five Painless Ways to Learn a Language for Travel

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Trying to get around in a foreign country when you don’t know the language can be an arduous task. Whether you’re trying to read the menu in a café or ask for directions, if you can’t be understood you can’t get help. It’s a conundrum that a lot of travelers face.

As you travel you are likely to encounter people who speak at least some English, however, learning some of the local language can only help. You’re not aiming for fluency; you’re trying to pick up enough to get by.

If your last attempt to learn a language was that horrible high school Latin class where you failed because you couldn’t figure out the declensions, this can be daunting. The good news is that you’re not in school anymore. You don’t need to spend hours studying, and it won’t count against your GPA. Here are the top five painless ways to pick up another language.

5 Use Your Airport Time

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You’re going to be spending hours traveling to the airport, waiting for your flight, and sitting in the plane. Over dinner — assuming you’re on an airline that still feeds its passengers — why not pop in your earbuds and play a language course? While you’re waiting in line for security or Customs, flip through a phrasebook instead of stewing and fretting. Put those foreign-language bands on your mp3 player and listen to them while you’re on the airport shuttle. You’re going to be looking for a lot of ways to waste time, and spending ten minutes reading or listening to vocabulary isn’t going to kill you. Really.

4 Watch TV

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You don’t even have to really watch; try putting it on while you’re washing the dishes, sleeping or working around the house. Between satellite, public access, local channels and the Internet, you’re likely to find TV shows in the language you want to learn. Pay particular attention to kids’ programs like Sesame Street: they’re teaching vocabulary in small, easy to understand segments, and it can help you learn just as much as it can help a 5 year old. This tends to have the same effect as listening to music in another language, in that it helps you become more familiar with pronunciation and vocabulary and helps your ears become accustomed to the different sounds.

3 Watch Dubbed Films

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You already know what happens in Star Wars, Toy Story or Hugo; you don’t need to rely on subtitles. Find a foreign-language dubbed version of a movie you really like, sit back, and watch it. Since you already know the plot, you won’t stress out about what’s happening or what people are saying, and you will find that you pick up a lot.

2 Learn the Expletives

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Yes, I’m suggesting that you learn to swear in another language. Here’s why: you probably want to learn those words so you’ll put some effort into it. And — guess what — if you can learn to say “kiss my ass” or “you suck” in Spanish, you can learn the polite words, too.

1 Find Music You Like

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Think about your favorite songs for a moment: you know all the lyrics, right? You didn’t sit down and study them, most likely. You probably just picked them up by listening to those songs over and over again, and it was totally painless. Whatever your preference, be it rap, alternative, punk, dubstep or even show tunes, there’s probably music out there in the language you want to learn. YouTube, Amazon and iTunes have made it easier than ever to find these bands and artists and give them a listen. Find some songs you like, buy them, listen to them, and help your brain familiarize itself with the language you want to learn. You’ll also be turned on to some cool new bands you might not have known about before.

Knowing even a few basic phrases in the local language can really enhance your time spend abroad. There are a lot of ways to pick up those words without stressing yourself, signing up for classes or spending hundreds of dollars. It just requires your effort and time. Get to it.

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