7 Foreign Language Hacks When Traveling Abroad

When you travel abroad, it’s always good to know at least a few phrases in the local language. The problem is that it’s hard to learn new languages. And no one wants to spend their precious travel time learning languages. But again, you can’t completely ignore the fact that you’re going to a new place with a new language.   After seven years 3 different countries and two new languages, I’m sharing my favorite foreign language hacks to help you hack your way through the local language, share the tools you need to navigate in that language and help you develop the confidence to use your new skills.

Foreign Language Hacks when traveling abroad


Foreign Language Hack #1: Don’t try to become an expert. 

When you travel abroad unless you’re a linguist, don’t try to learn the whole language before your trip.  Develop a list of essential foreign language phrases and learn those.

Foreign Language Hack #2: Don’t just learn how to speak, learn to understand basic phrases 

When we travel abroad, we generally focus on learning to speak and read the local language and that’s great, but you also need to understand a few key phrases. Otherwise, no amount of speaking will help you. One of my favorite ways to tune my ear to the language is to listen to music from that country.

Foreign Language Hack #3:  You don’t need to buy an expensive new language program

It’s easy to fall into a trap of thinking you must download, buy, or hire language services.  But you don’t.  Once you know the essential foreign language phrases and you start practicing them AND listening to local music/news, you’ll learn all you need to know on your international flight.

Foreign Language Hack #4: Don’t underestimate the value of the Google Translate App

I’m a follower of the Google. The Google Translate App is particularly wonderful for a number of reasons. First, you can download the whole app and use it offline, which is a genius move in certain countries.  Second, you can type in phrases and keep a list of your most used phrases.  In Chinese, the app not only gives you the pinyin but it also gives you the characters. Third, if someone says something to you that you don’t understand, Google Translate will convert what a person speaks in whatever language into a language that you understand.  Never have to say “I don’t understand” when someone speaks to you in a foreign language again.

Foreign Language Hack #5: Find the language app expats use

I don’t know about you, but I’m not going to spend months learning a new language to have fun when I travel abroad. I love languages. I just don’t have that kind of time. What I’ve learned is how to find the apps expats and non-native speakers use to navigate in the language. In China, I found Pleco was really helpful, but every language has a preferred app in the expat community. Most of the time, you don’t need to spend money because nomads and expats aren’t trying to spend extra money on apps.

Foreign Language Hack #6: Don’t be afraid to look stupid

Operating in a foreign language when you travel abroad requires a considerable mental load. And if you’re doing it right (and by doing it right, I mean using the language with locals), you will eventually sound like an incoherent toddler.  It’s ok to sound stupid when you’re trying to learn a foreign language while traveling abroad. it’s part of the process and it’s just part of the process.  You need the language to enjoy your time while you’re traveling abroad, so use it, even if you sound a bit silly.

Foreign Language Hack #7: Don’t be afraid to ask for clarification

During your travels, when people talk to you, you’re not always going to understand what they’re trying to say. And that’s ok.  It’s called practice. Just refer to your list of essential local phrases and ask, “can you say it again more slowly please?”  When you’re traveling abroad, understanding the local language is the difference between a mediocre trip and an epic trip. So, don’t be afraid of looking stupid or silly, and just ask for clarification. Most people don’t mind helping foreigners who try to speak the local language.

Being brave enough to tackle a foreign language when you travel abroad, takes your trip from mediocre to marvelous. These seven foreign language hacks will help you enjoy your next trip abroad.

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