Fast language for travel: 5 weeks

Fast language for travel: 5 weeks

How to learn a language for your trip over the next five weeks. You’re probably wondering why I want to share this information with you at this bizarre time when people can barely leave their homes, much less travel. I want to talk about a few things, specifically how language for travel is the best place to start in a new language, and I’m going to give you some really practical resources on how to do so.

Fast language: check out the research

So the first thing that I want to talk about is language learning and language acquisition. So I’m a real geek. I love languages. Languages were one of my first degrees. I loved it, so I started studying early on in school and continued through university. I did a master of arts in the teaching of languages. I’ve been teaching languages since my early twenties, and I love it. And so through my studies, both independent and my academic studies, I’ve tried to do it, teaching, the best that I could. And so over the years I’ve studied a lot of research, and one of the most prominent researchers in SLA, second language acquisition, is Dr. Stephen Krashen. And he has five theories of language acquisition. I’m not going to go into all of them, but I’m going to talk about one of them, and it’s language learning/acquisition.

So really, we learn language, we acquire language, by the things that we soak up, right? By understanding people, by understanding things we read, by understanding things we hear, by understanding things we see, and that’s how language develops naturally. And you did that with your first language, but you also used learning, which learning is really the deliberate activities that you do to learn a language. So I’ll give spelling as an example, learning specifically those patterns, learning parts of speech, memorizing vocabulary. And when you use those two things together, your language skills can accelerate greatly and really quickly. But whether you get to travel or not, and I really do hope that a lot of us get to travel soon, because I absolutely love it and I think a lot of people who would be listening to this feel the same way, language for travel is the absolute best place to start, whether you’re planning to travel or not.

Fast language: learn for travel (whether at home or not)

And one of the big reasons is that language for travel is completely focused on learning how to communicate, the survival language. So if you pick up a phrasebook, it’s going to have the words and phrases that you need to be able to cope during a trip. So it’s the most ideal place to start. And later on in this episode, I’m going to talk to you about how to use phrasebooks and how to make your own, because there are so many great resources out there that can be completely for free. But the first thing I wanted to talk about was thinking about how to use those words and phrases for survival in a really practical way. So if you’re stuck at home, you’re probably wondering, how would I use this stuff? How would I practice?

So I really like to do things in five-week intervals, and I talk about that in another episode, and there’s some really specific and practical reasons that have necessitated or have created that specific time period for me, and it’s just evolved and become more and more relevant to me. And one of them was the beginning was five weeks. I’m a school teacher, so I usually found five weeks to really work on my language skills, whether that was at home or whether that was abroad, and over the years I’ve discovered that travel is the perfect place to start. So if you’re stuck at home and you can’t go travel and talk to people, you can start with this travel context. And what I would recommend is taking a notebook and write down words and phrases that you want to learn. You can also, if you don’t want to start there and you want someone else to give you ideas, go online and get a phrasebook. Go on Amazon. There’s lots of PDF ones, eBooks that have the audio attached to them.

I share on my blog my language for travel and beginners. I have 11 languages, and they’re just these tiny bite-sized files of this survival language. They’re not meant to be long. They’re meant to be used and created, or curated rather, into playlists. And they’re separated by themes. So, for example, you might have Italian greetings, survival Japanese, Korean emergencies, Spanish eating and drinking, German getting around. It’s those beginning themes that they’re broken up into, and so I recommend thinking in that way, 15 to 20 words and phrases that cover a specific theme. And you can go on my blog,, and you’ll see there’s 11. You can look under podcasts or language for travel and beginners, and I believe with all of them, I actually have books where I’ve connected the audio to the word or the phrase. So I’ve done a lot of the work for you completely for free, but you can create your own completely with completely free tools.

Fast language: themes for travel and beginners

So for the first week, I would pick one theme and I would write down no more than 15 to 20 words. And there’s a few things that you can do with this. I would write down my 15 to 20 words and phrases, ideally in the target language first, in the first column, and then I would study them and go through and practice them. I would practice saying them out loud, and I think this is where a lot of people get a bit tripped up, is they feel funny talking, and particularly, like who talks to themselves? You want to talk to other people, especially when you’re learning the language, but talking to yourself is a really powerful tool that can help you become fluent really quickly. I would read through them as many times, like three or four times, until I feel comfortable, and I wouldn’t worry terribly about pronunciation. We’ll get into that in another episode, but at the end of the day, if people can understand you, that’s fine. We all want ideal pronunciation, but there’s some physiological reasons that maybe some of us as adults who are better language learners, not necessarily acquirers, than children, will struggle with. We’ll talk about that in another episode.

Fast language: record yourself

So I would also, from the very beginning, record myself. I love to use voice memos on my phone and read through them. Again, a lot of languages and a lot of these things that you might want to learn, if you’re completely beginning in a new language, I’ve already done the work for you. You can go on my blog. But you’re more than welcome, and I encourage you to make your own, so that they’re completely personalized. Every week I like to record myself and I read through the words and phrases that I’m learning when I’m just beginning or read out of a phrasebook. As I become more competent and confident, I record myself usually on a Friday, and I just talk to myself about whatever, and it’s a great check-in. I get to get over some of my fear of speaking and I have documentation of my progress, which is fantastic, because within a couple of months of doing this, practicing just a little bit every day, you’ll be stunned at the progress that you make.

So once you’ve written down all your words and phrases, your 15 for the week that’s based on one theme, I want you to look for some patterns, as well. So one of the other great benefits about language for travel, it’s naturally communicative, as I said, is that it naturally incorporates a concept that we call chunking. And what chunking means is learning words and phrases in meaningful chunks. So for example, we don’t necessarily want to learn five separate words. You can, but for example, I would like to go, that’s great. Those are all relevant words. And you see that that’s a very useful thing to learn and very common, everyday, high frequency words.

However, it’s more powerful to learn a chunk. I’d like, that’s everyday speech. And if you learned I’d like in the context of travel, and maybe you’ve got to go to a restaurant, to go to the hotel, to go to the museum, et cetera, you’ve now got, between your core chunk phrase, I’d like, and then maybe four or five verbs about places that you would like to go on your trip, you can then make about four or five sentences. It’s very communicative. It’s a lot more powerful than separately learning I, to, like, would, go. You get the picture. So those meaningful chunks, and language for travel in phrasebooks is naturally set up that way. So you want to look for those chunks.

And then what I like to do, and this is a really quick way to learn when you’re just beginning, after you’ve done your recording, after you’ve talked, I like to take the next column and I would write down my native language. In my case that’s English, obviously, and I study them and see if I can recognize all of them, and if I don’t, if I can’t recognize something, I go back to whatever my source was, be that my phrasebook, Google translate, my materials I’m sharing with you, and I would go ahead and study, and then I would fold the paper over again. And after I’ve studied for a while, I would write them down in the target language again, and this is where it gets more difficult. It’s easier to recognize at first, than to create, to produce with language.

And filling in the gaps of whatever I didn’t get, I would go back to my first column or my original resource and study, and then I would do it again. And I would do this every day for a week. When you’re just starting in a language, it’s really important to keep your study periods short and frequent. That reflects what you can do in a language. So if I’m just starting out in a language, I want to learn survival words and phrases. So you don’t want to go for any longer than sort of 40 minutes. You’re going to cognitively get really exhausted and it’s just not going to be very effective. You can do longer periods when you become more proficient and fluent in a language.

I like to do this in conjunction with something else. So I talked about my five weeks. I have found over the years, with technology, I’m able to do more things that realistically fit into my life in five weeks. If I had my way, I’d be going to private language schools, living abroad. I’d do that with a huge part of my life. Speaking out, touring around, speaking target languages, learning, listening to lectures, but my life just isn’t conducive to that. I work full time, and realistically, I might get as a beginner a half an hour a day into language studies, and as I progress, maybe an hour.

So doing something that’s really focused on learning, like we talked about earlier, which would be these vocabulary practice phrasebooks of survival language, and I would incorporate it with something that’s fun, as well. So I love to use materials, I love the apps out there. I love Duolingo, and I think that it’s super fun, even though it’s really pretty traditional in a lot of ways. It’s all about learning and translation. They are constantly adding great features on there. So I love the chatbots and the podcast, and it’s totally free. I’m actually doing a little experiment with Rosetta Stone. I had never considered doing a course with them, and I’m just checking it out right now. I’ve decided I can’t make a judgment until I give it a fair shot. They do 30 minute lessons. One of the reasons I didn’t want to do it was that it seemed very cost prohibitive. I wasn’t sure about the cost versus benefit. So it wasn’t clear to me, but there’s a big sale right now with lockdown, and I’m doing some lessons. It’s got some interesting features.

I love Yabla. I love doing anything that’s fun. So once you get more advanced, I love doing pleasure reading in my target language. Most importantly, I like to keep languages in my life, and I like to do it in a way that fits into my life. So a lot of my language studies are audio because I do a lot of them in my car. But during the summer when I have more time off, I like to read. So basically what I’m saying is you can supplement your language for travel studies really well and really effectively with something fun. One time I talked to Benny Lewis, and he told me he loves to speak from day one, which is great. That goes right back into that learning and acquisition that we talked about early on. And I have another episode on that that you’ll see about Benny and the five theories. But he gets his input through that real life communication, just like we talked about, just like those phrasebooks, right? Getting in there and really talking to people, and doing it early and often. So you’re practicing your output that you’ve learned, that you specifically learned, and then acquiring with more input. It’s really great.

He goes on Italki, which is a fantastic resource, and don’t feel shy. These people are professional language tutors and teachers and community. They’re used to offering people comprehensible input to learn languages. So I would even supplement, maybe buy a package of lessons, even just a few a month. And he gave a great tip about using chat features and however you’re communicating with these people, and if you’re too intimidated to talk, you can listen to them and respond by chat, which is really cool. It’s kind of similar to the concept of the Duolingo chatbots; however, you get a real person. There’s not any sort of speech recognition stuff going on there.

So let’s just sum up. So for every five weeks, I like to pick a new set of activities to learn languages. It helps get me through the rough spots, like some of the more traditional activities of actually learning vocabulary, sitting down with a notebook, some of the rough spots with grammar, for example. I’m getting that that I need, but I’m also looking forward to something else that fits into my life. So looking forward to spending a bit of time with my feet up and reading or binge watching on Netflix and using language learning with Netflix, or travel, something else that I know my language skills are going to continue to move forward or at least even be maintained in certain languages. But I’m always looking forward to something fresh and new.

And even if travel is not your goal, right now is the perfect time to pick a new theme every week. Pick 15 to 20 words and phrases for survival and commit to learning them. Use your notebook and do the vocabulary column method, where you are constantly testing yourself by going back and forth on paper between the target language phrases and your language phrases. And by the end of a couple of pieces of paper, you’ll know it. Go to a new theme the next week. If you find this a bit boring and you don’t want to spend any more than 10 to 15 minutes a day on it, spend another 15 to 20 minutes a day on something really fun, like Yabla, which offers language with comprehensible input, or reading online. Try that browser extension called Readlang and check it out.

So next, I want to talk a bit about how to create your own phrasebooks, if you don’t want to buy something or you want to personalize a theme, or you want to further go into the different themes that I shared with you on my materials.

Phrasebooks. So I wanna start here with the ACTFL Proficiency Levels. So ACTFL is the American Council for the Teaching of Foreign Languages. They published very detailed descriptions of different proficiency levels in languages, what people can do. Proficiency levels don’t worry about where you learned your language, where you got your language skills, how many books you did, how many classes you did. It’s all focused on what people can do, and the novice level learner is at the word level. Their next goal, the next stage is sort of that upper novice level that you see, that pyramid gets a bit wider, and they start making their own phrases to move into the intermediate level, which is sentence level language.

So phrasebooks are absolutely ideal for this. Absolutely ideal. What phrasebooks do is they get people communicating right away. In a lot of traditional programs, people are presented with lists of vocabulary and grammar. And all of that stuffs really useful, it’s fantastic. And you’re gonna have to study it at some point. I do a lot of old school activities, as a learner and as a teacher because they work. However, the novice level learner needs to get communicating. They don’t need to understand rules, they just need words and phrases to communicate.

And a phrasebook is gonna do that. I honestly believe that the focus on all of these rules is what keeps people from becoming fluent because they get discouraged. They sort of are expected to put all this stuff together and create with language, which is what happens, but you’re looking up towards right in the middle sort of in that intermediate level is when that really starts happening. You gotta have a lot of words and phrases first. So there’s no reason you can’t be communicating and cutting out all the stuff that you don’t need to communicate to begin with.

You can do all that language and grammar study later. So one of the things that we did in this course was it was all based on a phrasebook. So the phrasebook being language for travel and beginners. Regardless of whether all of those words and phrases that were presented would be relevant to you at any given time or there could be more that you need to know, there could be less, there could be some that aren’t relevant to you, that’s not really the point. The point is that it’s all communicative and in context.

Here’s an example of a Korean phrasebook. And the context here is just getting around. And as you can see, the English is linked to Korean, Korean native speaking audio. In the middle, you’ve got Korean and then on the right you’ve got Korean and English. This isn’t meant to get you writing novels, this is meant to get you communicating. The more you communicate, the more you practice, the more you know, the more quickly you’re gonna become fluent. It’s really quite simple.

This next example is from eyewitness guides, available online. This is Spanish. The context here is socializing and likes and dislikes. This is cheap and easy. You can download it, you can have this in a matter of minutes. I believe it’s available on Amazon too, but they definitely have their own site, eye witness guides. You see they’ve got the little audio icon, you can hear a native speaker, you can see a bunch of phrases that are relevant to this socializing and these likes and dislikes tasks listed, you see the Spanish equivalent, you see the phonetic spelling so you can pronounce it written for English speakers, really, really useful.

They do tons of them. This one’s Italian. This is very useful for me. Rough Guides is another excellent one. I believe they’re French travel guide has 5,000 words and phrases. Berlitz solid. Lonely Planet. Also excellent. These are all really reasonable, cost effective, great ways to expand your language skills while you’re in the novice level. Another example that I have here that’s completely free are released by the United States government. They’re in the public domain so you don’t have to pay anything for them. This particular example is Japanese, but they’re available in several languages.

Japanese phrasebook from 1944. A terrible time in Japanese history. But it cuts down to the basics. This is all for people who are in Japan to get communicating. There’s greetings, there’s questions, there’s English, there’s Japanese, and then you’ll see the same set of words and phrases in English and then Japanese and English so it’s much easier. You can start learning writ Japanese. The sort of side-by-side guides with the English included. There’s some sad stuff in their. It’s during war time. Terrible time in their history, but part of learning a language is about learning the culture of the people understanding where they came from, and why they might think the way that they do.

It’s really important. We have to learn about what people make, what they do, how they see the world. That’s a hugely critical part of learning a language. Again, free and in the public domain. But beyond that, language learning today is getting easier and easier and better and better because there’s more tools for us to connect with native language and culture. When I first started teaching languages, I was dragging in shoe boxes and photo albums with slides and photos and DVD’s and books and magazines to share with my students. And all this stuff’s available online now. It’s amazing.

And in fact that’s how my whole blogging project started was digitizing a lot of this stuff ’cause it was taking so much physical room. You can listen to audio books, you can see YouTube videos, you can listen to podcasts, there’s grammar lessons, tutorials all over the place, there’s ways to speak with native speakers, there are tools and apps to find words. Here, you can download a lot of it to your phone as well. We’ve never lived in a time like this. But I wanna share one tool with you in particular, which you probably already know about. And that’s Google translate.

So Google translate is like any other sort of translation tool or dictionary. It deals with input and output. You put something in and you get something out. And that’s essential because there’s gonna be times that you’re gonna have to put words and phrases in because you don’t understand them in the target language or you need to know their equivalent of your language in the target language. So I know I’m pointing out the obvious there, but that’s essential. You’ve gotta find a way … you’ve gotta have a way to access words and phrases you don’t know.

But there’s a lot of pitfalls there. Again, it deals with input and output. This is not as smart as a human being. A dictionary is not as smart as a human being. Google translate is not as smart as a human being. So there are lots of mistakes that can be generated through using a program like this. And I just wanna talk about a few before we talk about what’s good about it and how to use it. So I want to show you this example of Italian English to Italian the word Monday. So this seems pretty obvious enough. And the translation is actually fairly accurate, but there’s one error.

And that’s, that Monday in Italian is capitalized, which it’s not. But if you’re at this stage, you might not know that. Now I’m not gonna say that, that’s a deal breaker in communication, but you need to be aware. This next set, the word may. Okay. Well what’s the context? So really I was looking for a May as in the month. But what it gave me is may as in, “May I. Can I.” Completely incorrect context. If I didn’t know enough Italian, I could make some pretty big mistakes their. Here’s an example in Spanish. So if you speak Spanish you know that to pull ones leg … or I’m sorry, if you speak English you know that to pull ones leg is to try to trick somebody.

But the translation that we’re given here is literally to pull someones leg. So if you speak Spanish, you know that the equivalent of that is basically pulling someones hair, the equivalent of that. And so that’s what I put in. And what I got out is to pull someones hair. That doesn’t translate. It’s really to pull someones leg, to trick somebody. Not literally to pull someones hair. So there’s lots and lots of room for errors here. So it’s gotta be used with caution. However, what’s really special about Google translate is that it’s getting better and better and better and better and better.

Because there translations come increasingly all the time from documents that were translated by humans. So it’s not a computer isn’t gonna understand syntax or not necessarily gonna understand the order in which a certain language uses a certain word. Or they’re not necessarily gonna understand the context like that example of may. I wanted to know May the month, but I got out may and in “May I.” Okay? We’re smarter than computers. However, one of the things that’s fantastic, if you go into it knowing that it’s getting better and better and that it’s often right and it’s getting better and that you can completely personalize your experience is that you can make a phrasebook with Google translate.

So let’s go back to the example that we talked about in Italian with the day. So I put in Monday and if you recall I got Monday with a capital, but that’s not correct. So what I did is I actually suggested an edit and I got another choice that came down as another choice this with lowercase level. So then I hit the star and what that does is that adds it to a phrasebook. So what I did is I actually made a little phrasebook of words … basically the days and the months. So what I was able to do is click the star, after I click the star in the target language … let’s actually go back.

I click the star on the target language box, the translation box, and then next to where it says, “Turn off instant translation,” that star with the circle around it, after I finished all my translations I hit that, I ended up with this. Let’s open this up. I then clicked that little icon underneath the search bar. It looks like a little table there. And this is where it brought me, to import document. Now you’re gonna wanna be signed into your Google account when you do this. Because what it’ll do is it’s gonna import that phrasebook, that personalized phrasebook that you made, into Google sheets.

I think that’s really cool. Anything you’d wanna learn, you can make your own little phrasebook. However, I don’t need what’s in column A or in column B. I understand that one column is English and I understand that the other column is Italian. So I just deleted them. And this is what I ended up with. Now what you can actually do with these is fantastic. If you are dealing with Roman script, you can download these as either … well, tab separated values, I would say. You can download these sheets as tab separated values or as comma separated values. Character languages are a little bit different.

And you can import them into programs like Quizlet or StudyBlue where you can make your own study tools. You can make your own EKEE cards with tab separated values. Or you could just have your own phrasebook. The completely personalized language learning experience.

Check out the course here:

Looking to get started? Create your own playlists from the mini-courses here:

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *