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Travel Tip: How to Cram Learning a Language Before a Trip

So I just got word that I’m headed to Poland for a media trip in just a few weeks! I’m super excited. Thing is: I like speaking the local language and — no surprise — I speak zero polski. I know it’s not completely necessary that I speak any, but as I’ve said, even a little effort to learn a few words in a local language can pay off hugely.

And so I’m knee-deep in consonants with few vowels. Here are my tips for learning at least a little language right before a trip.

1. Find a Language Learning App

It took me a while to find one I like for Polish. Istarted with DuoLingo, which I’m familiar with, but I didn’t like how it threw me into pronunciation before I had a grasp on the different sounds of the Polish alphabet. So I found one called Polish Grammar Practice that taught me the alphabet and sounds, as well as words and phrases. I now flip between the two apps.

The key here is being dedicated. Even 5-10 minutes a day will help you right before your trip.

2. Download a Radio App

Another thing I like to do is listen to talk radio in the language I’m learning. It gives me a sense of the sounds of the language, and as I pick up more words, I get really nerdy excited when I hear them in the conversation. There are tons of radio apps for any given country; the challenge is finding one that doesn’t play American music all day and actually has talk sessions.

3. Write Down Your Basic Words

In my recent Travel Tips post, I gave you a few key phrases that will take you far in any country. I suggest you skip any useless words an app tries to teach you (DuoLingo started me out with man/woman/boy/girl, which I don’t find incredibly useful) and focus on ones you know you want to know:

  1. Ordering food and drink

  2. Asking directions

  3. Asking if someone speaks English

  4. Please and thank you

4. Cut Yourself Some Slack

I’m a perfectionist, so it’s super frustrating when I still sound like a baby after picking up some language skills. Still, your goal here isn’t 100% mastery, but rather learning enough to feel ok when you travel to a new country. My goal is to pick out a few words on signs and give some rudimentary greetings and sentences.

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