How to rapidly learn enough of a foreign language to get by on vacation

Imagine walking down the streets of Paris and having a cognitive grasp of the numerous conversations around you.

Besides the cobblestone corridors and wifts of coffee from a corner bistro, you have delved into an even deeper part of French culture just by understanding what people are saying.

The funny thing is, knowing enough of a new language to achieve this type of “travel enlightenment” isn’t nearly as difficult as it may seem.

There’s no magical DNA sequence that helps one person learn a language better than the next. Most of us probably took French or Spanish for a few years in high school or college, but can barely mutter a few foreign phrases today.

Immersion means engagement
You can experience a culture in far deeper fashion if you can speak and think, at least a little bit, within that language.

While learning the language of the country you are visiting has its practical perks, so much of the experience of being abroad is taking on the complex people, customs and emotions of the country, and this includes its native tongue.

There’s also somewhat of a domino effect with learning a new language, according to LifeHacker. Once you are comfortable with a new language the patterns and grammar of other languages can become much easier for you to master (after all, many modern languages evolved from mother languages, most notably Latin).

The tipping point for language learning
Tim Ferriss, a man who has championed “lifestyle design,” has learned how to write, read and speak Japanese, Mandarin and Spanish. He offers some excellent advice on getting started in the key elements of learning foreign languages:

Know your cognates: These are words that mean the same thing in English as another language. Many times they also sound alike and they often end with -tion (communication, solution, nation, precipitation, etc.). There are a lot of them and they are widely used, so this is your best place to start.

Make it a daily thing: Speaking is something that most of us do every day. It helps us master our own native tongue and learn new words, so the same should be done for a second language. Take time during your day to browse the Internet and learn about what’s going on in the country you wish to visit and become immersed in the culture. Hearing and using the language on a daily basis, even on a virtual basis, can benefit your language learning skills.

You just have to get your point across: Mistakes are going to happen when you are speaking a new language in a foreign country. Think of people you’ve experienced in the U.S. who are traveling through from abroad. During conversation, there’s a chance they didn’t get every word right, the tense was off or they jumbled up the sentence structure – but you probably knew what they meant, and that’s the important thing. You probably won’t win any linguistic awards, but you’ll know how to get by in another country, and that’s your goal, right?

Many resources to learn a new language are free: Here are a few suggested online portals for language learning (for free):

  • DuoLingo: This free online course tracks your progress and lets you hover over words to see the translation.
  • Lang 8: This is more of an interactive online community that allows native speakers to correct your writing.
  • Forvo: Forvo allows you to hear the words you are trying to pronounce.
  • Google Translate: Google strikes again with this easy tool, which easily translates documents from dozens of languages.