Friday, July 31, 2015

How to Survive Full Language Immersion

If you have the chance to go abroad, and want to learn a language, the best and quickest way to learn a foreign language is full language immersion.

It's a no-brainer why - you're constantly surrounded by the language everywhere you go, and with that comes being able to practise it all the time, soaking up everything like a sponge.

When you're living, eating and breathing another language, however, it is not easy (stating the obvious).

It is, in fact, challenging, tiring, excruciatingly embarrassing and isolating at times, and it is hardcore (big respect to everyone who does it).

Whilst, language immersion is all of the above, it is also an amazing and fascinating experience. I am so, so, so glad I pushed myself to do it, despite all of the above challenges.

You get an insight into the language and culture you otherwise wouldn't have, getting to learn everyday language and slang. You practise every aspect of language, you're reading, writing, listening and speaking - it's particularly great for perfecting your accent. Full language immersion is a one big language learning lesson.

How do I know? Well, I've done three full-on language immersions now, one in Brittany, France for 6 weeks and one in Valentano, Italy for 6 weeks (I have sadly replaced Italian with Spanish, for now) during my gap year, and then two years ago, during my year abroad, I lived in a student residence for 3 and months, in Medellín, where I was the only foreigner.

With my language immersion experiences under my belt, I decided it was high time to give my top tips for surviving full language immersion:

#1. Prepare yourself

If you can familiarise yourself with the language pre-immersion, it will help you feel more prepared before doing it. Obviously, it is impossible to learn the entire language, but learning basic phrases and grammar, listening to the radio or music will help give you a head start to learning the language.

#2.  Ask lots of questions

It's likely you will find yourself at loss for words, or struggling to keep up with the conversation, especially in big group situations. Ask lots of questions, especially when you meet people so you can 1. dictate the conversation and have a better chance of following it and 2. it lessens the burden of you having to talk!

If you're lost in a conversation, don't be shy to interrupt it every now and then to ask what is the conversation topic. It can be difficult at times to keep up, and it will feel like you're watching a game of tennis, as you have to look at the person who is talking to focus on what they're saying. Even if you feel completely lost, rest assured that all of this practise is going somewhere, so don't feel downhearted.

#3. Rest

Constantly speaking and having to consciously think in another language is tiring work. This will seriously sap your energy levels, and you will want to go to bed a lot earlier than usual. This is completely natural, so embrace it, rest up and over time, you will stop needing to have your nanna nap and get your energy back. This may be subject to friendly ridicule by friends or your host family, but let them know that learning a language is a knackering business, because the struggle is real.

#4. Find a native language escape

Sometimes the frustrations of learning a language will get too much, so being able to express yourself in your own language is a great escape. When I was living in the student residence in Medellín, I would go to the Wandering Paisa language exchange every Thursday and just speak English the whole time. It was great to vent and not feel conscious of speaking and relax with a beer. Make sure you give yourself a language learning break too, whether it's having a Skype with a friend back home, catching up with someone for coffee or watching your favourite TV show.

#5. Revise what you've learnt at the end of the day

This is something that I'm admittedly not brilliant at, but revision is key to language learning. If revising at the end of the day is too much, make sure to regularly revise the new vocabulary and grammar you have learnt, or remember the corrections from any mistakes you have made. Revision is also a great way to reinforce the fact that you have learnt something new. There are times when you can feel like you've learnt nothing, or even somehow got worse, so it's a positive reminder you're improving.

Which brings me nicely onto the last point...

#6. Stay positive

As I've mentioned above, learning a language can sometimes feel isolating and frustrating. But, always remind yourself why you want to learn a language, how great it is, and that the end result will be worth it. You are doing an amazing thing, and it is an incredibly brave thing to live in another language. Keep up the hard work and, trust me, you will see unbelievable results, especially when you can impress people with your sh*t-hot language skills.

Have you done full language immersion? What are your language immersion tips?

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Less than One Month to Go: The Colombia To-Do List

Here's what I want to do before I leave Colombia

I still can't believe in 3 weeks time, yes 3 weeks to the day, I will be jetting back to good ol' Blighty after six months in Colombia.

For want of a better reflective, looking back on time cliché, these 6 months have flew by. To say the least, I don't regret coming back to Colombia, despite my reservations that the second time round would maybe ruin my love for Colombia.

My mam and dad are not going to like seeing this, but my love for Colombia has only grew and I can see myself coming back to Colombia again, and again, and again.

As is the tradition, I set myself an overambitious list to do before I leave and so in the next three weeks I hope to:

1. Finally go to Eslabón Prendido on a Tuesday. This place is the place to go for salsa in Medellín and I've heard so much about it, I really want to go and shake what my mamma gave me and have a proper Colombian send-off, dancing the night away.

2. Make it to Chocó to see the humpback whales. I really, really, really hope to fit this in before leaving. Chocó has been top of my to-go list since my friend told me all about, and ever since I've been rewatching ChocQuibTown videos to make do.

3. Go see a football game. This is probably one of the least likely ones, as I always seem to find out about the game, when it's just about to start, but we'll see.

4. Finally, go to Santa Fé de Antioquia. It's only an hour and a half away and once again, I been told how beautiful the old colonial town is. But somehow, I still haven't made it there.

5. Finally eat a bandeja paisa. This is practically sacrilege considering how long I've been in Medellín, but hear me out, I've had all of the different components of bandeja paisa just not all together. For those who have yet to experience a bandeja paisa, it's a traditional dish from Medellín and I'm surprised it hasn't featured on Man Vs Food, considering it consists of chorizo, chicharrón (fried pork rind), morcilla (black pudding), mince, avocado, fried egg, plantain and rice. It is huge, and it requires a big appetite.

6. Go back to Comuna 13. I think it's just such a fascinating place, and I would love to do the graffiti tour to find out the stories behind the murals.

7. Paraglide over Medellín. I had the best intentions of doing so after my birthday two years back, but you know how things go. A few too many shots of aguardiente may or may not been involved in the process of losing all motivation to paraglide over Medellín. I think it would be a great way to say goodbye to Medellín.

And finally...8. Learn as much Spanish as possible. My Paisa friends are doing everything in their power to ensure I learn as many paisa phrases as possible, which is great as I want to improve my Spanish as much as possible before going. I still have a way to go, but I have improved greatly since being here.

It's very likely I won't do everything, but I intend to make the very most of my final three weeks here in Medellín *sob*. Feria de las Flores starts in just over a week, so I'm sure I will have a corker.

Any suggestions to add to my Colombia to-do list?

Friday, July 17, 2015

#InspireAClass to Learn Languages

Third Year Abroad and British Council have launched a new project #InspireAClass to inspire high school students to learn languages

I bang on a lot about how amazing learning languages is. But surprisingly, I feel languages has been a subject that I've neglected on the ol' blog.

I recently decided to resolve this, and have started including more language-related material. *Time for some cheeky self-promotion* Exhibit A - 5 ways languages have enhanced my travels. Exhibit B 5 top tips for newbie language learners and Exhibit C - Basic Paisa Spanish Expressions and Phrases.

Honestly, I could talk until the cows come home about how amazing languages are.

Which brings me nicely onto the reason why I love learning languages.

There are many, many advantages to learning languages such as improving your professional prospects (Exhibit A, B and C will reiterate my point), making you smarter (Ta Da, more articles to prove my point - A, B and C) and of course, being sexier doesn't hurt either (no exhibits needed, I'm right here*). If you need any more proof, why not have a deek at this bilingual infographic, this is the infographic to end all arguments with people who say learning languages are pointless:

*said with a cheeky bit of irony

inspire language learningLearn English with Kaplan

Of course, the above benefits are lovely, but for me, learning languages is all about being able to talk to even more people.

Time for a back story  - *clears throat* When I was a young bairn, I had a speech problem and I couldn't really talk until I was 5. I had extensive speech therapy and even now, I have issues with enunciation - although that may be more to the fact that I speak quite fast and with a bizarre half North-Eastern, half every other accent under the sun hybrid accent.

Back when I was cute. And look at that amazing 90s fashion.

Since then, I like to think I've been making up for lost time, it can be hard to shut me up at times. And at school, you could have even have gone as far as saying I was a bit of gobshite, as I was a cheeky so-and-so and my big fat mouth often got me into trouble.

Anyhoo, at middle school, whilst I wasn't completely struggling at school, I wasn't setting the academic world on fire. Middle school really wasn't my thing either, as certain teachers were negative Debbie Downers (teachers make a huge impact, for better or worse).

Until I started languages in year 7, I realised I had a knack for learning languages and there was a lovely, enthusiastic French teacher. I loved French, but then I sadly went through a stage of being too 'cool' to be clever - lol jk, I was and still am uncool. Kids, if you're reading this, pretending to be thick is not cool, USE YOUR INTELLIGENCE AND READ FOR THE LOVE OF GOD.

Luckily, I realised when I went to high school that having GCSEs and the like were, and still are, useful/necessary, and what's more, I could actually get some good GCSEs too if I stuck at it with languages. I had great teachers at high school, and this is where you realise how important teachers are.

Whoever said "Those who can't do teach" obviously never had any good teachers, because teachers are so crucial and vital to kids' development, intellectual growth and of course, EDUCATION.

Why I learn languages

Just me, my friends and Putin's interpretor. Standard school trip.

There were two trips to Moscow and St. Petersburg, which really reinforced how amazing, cool and fascinating learning a language is. One, we got to go to Moscow and St. Petersburg, which in itself was amazing (although it was intimidating for us young'uns). But two, we actually got to use the little Russian we had learnt and put it into practise. It made revising the locative case for the millionth time worth it.

For anyone wondering, I went to your bog-standard state comprehensive. But it was such a great school, and the teachers were great at organising trips. It's particularly testament, considering how much paperwork and red tape there is to organise a school trip.

Learning a language is so, so, so, so much more than your GCSE or A Level grade and this is one thing that the English education system gets so wrong. Whilst grammar and knowing vocabulary about global warming, immigration, and youth unemployment is important, languages are all about communication.

The fact that you get to break down the language barrier and talk to someone that you otherwise wouldn't have is incredible. Even though, at times, speaking a foreign language is one of the most excruciatingly embarrassing experiences, it is also an exhilarating one, when you master it, or even make that one small step, such as ordering a drink at a café, or asking someone for directions.

Learning languages is great. It enhances your travels and you get to meet people worldwide.
Learning languages has given me the opportunity to travel and meet friends from all over the world (cheesy and cringey but true)

I really wish the advantages, benefits and the beauty (cringe) of learning languages were emphasised more. I can't even begin to tell you how much it has enhanced my life. It's given me more opportunity to travel, I've met new friends, and the best thing about languages is that you are constantly learning something every day, even if you're completely fluent (still got a way to go yet). It gives you that needed drive to carry on learning, improving and developing your knowledge of language(s).

Third Year Abroad are currently running an initiative along with the British Council called "Inspire a Class". The "Inspire a Class" is all about showing secondary school pupils (ages 14-18) how you can use your languages and more importantly, it's to inspire them to learn languages themselves. If you want to get involved, check out the Third Year Abroad article for more details. Whilst you're at it, use the #inspireaclass on social media to spread the word.

Why do you learn languages? Which is your favourite?

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Spending the Puente in Jardín, Antioquia

The beautiful pueblo of Jardin in Antioquia is the perfect weekend trip from Medellin.

Way back in January, just before returning to Colombia, I made a non-exhaustive list of the many different places in Colombia I wanted to visit. I also made myself a, for once, reasonable new year's resolution of visiting three new places in Colombia this year.

I'm pleased to say that this is one new year's resolution I've kept (and a few others).

I've been to Capurganá and Sapzurro, Bogotá and Parque Tayrona. I've also got a cheeky trip to San Andrés lined up next week. And hopefully, fingers crossed, hopefully, I'll make it to Chocó to see the migrating humpback whales too.

I have in fact SMASHED that new year's resolution. Although the motivation of more travel was never going to be a hard resolution to keep.

A few weekends back, for one of June's THREE bank holidays (it makes your eyes water to think that the UK has the same amount in a whole year) me and my friend Cata headed to Jardín, a pueblo in Antioquia three and a half hours away from the hustle and bustle of Medellín. It's perfect fodder for a weekend trip.

The little town lives for the weekend, when everyone migrates from the cities for a change of scenery (which is just so GREEN). The life and soul of the town is in the main square, or the parque principal, and daytime or night time, there's always something going on. If hunger strikes, you can grab some typical Colombian fare, such as butifarra (little pork sausages), chorizo, arepas de choclo (sweetcorn patties) or obleas with arequipe (wafers with milk caramel) from the many little carts on the square.

The best thing to do in the daytime is to grab a cup of amazing, and cheap coffee ($800 COP for a cup of black coffee) at the De Los Andes café which has a balcony overlooking the square. You can people watch to your heart's content there.

La catedral de Jardín, Antioquia, Colombia

At night time, you can grab a bottle of beer, aguardiente or rum and hang out in the park, or you can listen to old-school Colombian classics and reggaeton (so I was in my element) in the cantinas, accompanied with drinks, popcorn and mango biche. You can even gaupe at the fact that people park their horses outside the bars and try your best to avoid getting in their path, when crossing the street.

After a night out, dancing in the cantinas, we got up bright and early to tackle the trek to the Cueva del Esplendor. With neither of us being huge horse fans, we did the trek on foot, which involved us having to climb up at one point. We even dared to dip in the ice-cold water, which after a while, after you felt like your body would go into cardiac arrest, turned out to quite refreshing.

La vista del carro en Jardín, Antioquia
Otra vista de Jardín, Antioquia, Colombia
Las flores coloridas y bonitas en Jardín, Antioquia, Colombia
La vista del paisaje cerca de Jardín, Antioquia, Colombia
El rio que va para la cueva del esplendor, Jardín, antioquia, Colombia
La Cueva del Esplendor, Jardín, Antioquia, Colombia

Whilst the Cueva del Esplendor is an impressive sight, with a waterfall flowing into a cave, the best time to admire it in all its glory, probably wasn't one of the busiest public holidays of the year. Still, the walk was worth it, and it worked out all the sins from the night before and then some.

We were in fact so knackered after the walk, that all we managed to do was to walk into town, get some tasty pizza at Café Europa (just a few blocks away from the parque principal) and hop in a tuk-tuk back to our hostel.

We stayed at the Hostal Selva y Café, which was quite a trek out of town. We would have probably gone for somewhere closer to town, had it not been the bank holiday weekend. To get there, it was either a 45 minute walk, or a 10-15 minute tuk-tuk ride which would usually cost around $6000 per trip.

El motoratón en jardín, antioquia, ColombiaEn la quebrada al lado del hostal selva y café, Jardín, Antioquia, Colombia

However, the far-location did have a few compensations, being right slap bang in the middle of nature, so you could really take advantage of the city escape. And it was right next to a stream, which we decided to dip in, before heading back to Medellín.  The far-out location however, did mean I fell victim to being eaten alive by bugs. Bring all the repellent you can find, if you come to Jardín, make sure you learn from my mistakes.

Aside from my unwanted mosquito souvenirs, I can't believe it has taken me this long to explore more of Antioquia's countryside. I forgot how much I missed seeing greenery and having a whole weekend away from the city did wonders. If you're around in Medellin and want a countryside escape, Jardín has a lot to offer.The best thing is you don't even have to do a lot, you can sit in the main square, have a cup of coffee, maybe even treat yourself to a slice of cake, sit back and enjoy.

Or you can take advantage of the lovely countryside too, but whatever floats your boat.

How to get to Jardín: Get the bus (about $18,000COP) from the terminal del sur. It's around three and a half hours' journey.

Where to Stay in Jardín: We stayed at the Hostal Selva y Café. Dorm beds are $35,000 COP per person, with breakfast included. There's also Hotel La Casona, which is a block away from the main square. It's a red and white building and has twin/double private rooms for $55,000 COP per person, with breakfast included.

Where are your favourite countryside escapes? Have you been to Jardín?

Sunday, July 12, 2015

Basic Paisa Spanish Phrases and Expressions

Hello, it's been a while, hasn't it?

Life here in Medellin has been crazy-busy - I've had more work than I've ever had before (not complaining), I've been trying to see and do as much as possible (again not complaining) and I've been trying to learn as much Spanish as possible. 

The thing I find absolutely fascinating about Colombia is, like the UK, each region and city has its own accent and slang. I've always loved accents and regional slang - it's a very rich and revealing way to express yourself and show your identity. 

That being said, I have struggled with some regional accents (sorry costeños) and the slang is not the most logical to say the least. Although, which slang is east to pick up?

I may have already said it, but here in Medellín, paisas (Medellín locals) have a very distinct accent and vocabulary.

Luckily, for Spanish learners, paisas generally speak slowly and enunciate, which is great because it's already hard enough without having to guess what the word is with only 2 of the 4 syllables pronounced.

There are, however, two particularities about the paisa accent:

The ll and y sound are pronounced like a soft j/g (according to Wikipedia, the sound is called a yeísmo). It's similar to the Argentinian pronunciation for the same sound, although that's more like a sh sound. So in place of the usual Meh-dey-yin, for Medellín, here it's pronounced Meh-dey-jin. Likewise, ayer in Medellín is pronounced ah-jer instead of ah-yer.

Like in Argentina (is there a link?), a lot of paisas will use vos instead of tú. The conjugations are different so that's something to look out for. Because I'm a bad student I haven't particularly learnt the vos conjugations, but it might be something to look up, if you fancy it.

So, now I've gone over the basics of the Medellín accent, here are some basic paisa expressions:

¿Qué más pues?

¿Qué más? is a phrase used throughout Colombia. But, the use of the pues at the end of the phrase is distinctly paisa. Pues is the verbal tick equivalent of North-Easterners (England) using like. If you want to try your hand at blending in as a local, using pues every now and then is a good start.

¡Qué chimba/cuca!

If you're familiar with the Spanish language, you may know that the above also mean vagina. But here in Medellín, to say something is una chimba/cuca also means something is cool. For example, if someone were to ask you how your weekend was:

"¿Cómo te fue el finde?" You could reply, "Fue una chimba" if it was a great weekend.

To describe something is cool, you can something is una chimba de... . So for example, if you're in a cool house, it's una chimba de casa, a great party could be una chimba de rumba and so forth.

¡Qué gonorrea!

In similar guise, to say something is negative/bad/shit, you say "¡Qué gonorrea!" Yes, I know what you're thinking - this has to be a joke, right? When my friends first told me this, I did too, soon after they told me, I've heard it frequently ever since.

My second thought is that why gonorrhoea, when there is a wide selection of STIs, but I think it's a good word to vent your anger out. There's a lot of hard, harsh sounds (for Spanish) as well as a cheeky rolled r, so it makes it very anger-friendly venting material. A lot like when you drop the c bomb. Love it or hate it, it's a good word to release anger.


If someone refers to you as a parce in Medellín, it is the equivalent of calling someone a mate or dude in English. If you're a girl, you may be referred to as a parcera and if there's a group of you, you'll be parceros.

I've been told two stories as to why parce came to be.

1. That it has its origins from Brazilian soldiers who were based in the Amazon rainforest. They would call each other parceiro and it's somehow arrived in Medellín.

2. That it has its origins from the gringo drug mules in the seventies and eighties who misheard the word, I think, parné (cash), for parce, and so it came to be.

My inkling is that it's more likely to have originated from the first theory, but it's interesting to find out the theories of how words and slang came to be.


Similar to parce, and the two are probably linked, a parche is used to describe a casual hanging out with friends. You can also use the verb parchar to "hang out" too.

For example, "Vamos a parchar esta tarde" would mean we're going to hang out this afternoon.

If your social life is somewhat lacking, working 24/7 or you've been cooped up in the house watching Netflix all day, you could say, estoy desparchado/a.

¡No me chimbies!

It has a few different contexts. The most-used context is an equivalent to the standard Spanish no me molesta or the colloquial English, stop pissing me off.

It could also be the equivalent of you're kidding or you're joking. But it's quite a hard expression to find a fitting translation of.

I'll leave it there for now as I've waffled on for long enough. Paisa Spanish is a rich and fascinating slang, like all colloquial language, so I'm sure I'll write up another post with more Paisa expressions in the near future.

Which Paisa Spanish expressions would you add to the list? Which Spanish slang is your favourite?

Friday, June 19, 2015

5 top tips for newbie language learners

Learning a new language is no easy feat.

And as much as an obvious statement it sounds, I absolutely hate it when people underestimate the difficulties of learning a foreign language.

Because learning Spanish is "so easy" or everyone speaks English anyway, blah blah blah. 

Sure, there are technically 'easier' and 'harder' languages to learn as a native English speaker, but regardless of whatever language you decide to pick up, it will be a challenge.

A very fun, fascinating challenge at that, but it's not always rainbows and unicorns.

Learning a foreign language is hard, you will more than likely have a massive slight language-related breakdown and there will be times when you want to throw in the towel.

Especially for the first-time language learner, learning a foreign language can feel like a daunting challenge. It's, for want of a better cliché, pushing you out of your comfort zone and you, in certain respects, can feel vulnerable when you can't quite communicate what you're trying to say.

But as they say, the expert in anything was once the beginner. 

I cringe at this awful, cheesy quote, but it's true.

And whilst I don't profess to be an expert in any way, shape or form, I've been there, done that, got
the newbie linguist t-shirt.

Right here in Medellín in fact.

And I feel your pain.

So in line with my new weekly linguistic feature, I thought I would give some helpful tips for those who are starting out learning a new language.

So without further ado, here are my 5 tips for new language learners:

Find your learning style

This is something that I think a lot of learning resources fail at.

There is no "one size fits all" strategy when it comes to learning a language. Most languages focus on a grammar and vocabulary led approach, which whilst it has its reasons, does not cater to everyone.

After a lot of trial and error, I know my learning style is speaking (SHOCK), I learn from repetition, interacting with others and hearing how native speakers communicate.

To further enhance my learning, I have the radio on when I'm working. I listen to Spanish music - I am very well-versed in South American artists now - and this fine tunes my listening passively whilst I am busy at work, a lot of the time I'm unaware I'm taking it in, until I realise I understand the lyrics or what the presenter is talking about.

Your learning style may be flash cards, or writing stuff down, or creating actions or gestures to remember the word. Experiment with different learning styles and techniques and find the one you're comfortable with.

That being said...

Be disciplined learning grammar

Whilst learning grammar is probably not the most exciting prospect for most language learners, it's an unavoidable reality.

Be disciplined, do not slack off learning grammar and you'll avoid getting into any bad habits.

Grammar is the foundation of any language and if you don't build yourself a strong foundation - you'll find it soon goes to sh*t and you'll have to go back to the beginning and revise something you've already learnt.

Use every opportunity to practise

Feel cultured and watch a film in your target language with subtitles, find yourself your new favourite band or singer (hello, J Balvin) and go get yourself a language partner.

I've talked until the cows come home about how great language exchanges are - you get in contact with native speakers, who are learning other languages, so they know the challenges and difficulties of learning a language. You'll normally meet some cool people as well, and there are all sorts of great and interesting language exchange concepts - my fave was a language exchange pub quiz in Paris. You can find all sorts of language exchanges at MeetUp.

If you can't get to a language exchange, fear not - you could even find yourself a language exchange partner online, all thanks to WeSpeke. It's essentially a language exchange on Skype and you fill in a questionnaire, talking about your interests and hobbies. The programme then suggest potential language partners with mutual interests. It's a great concept.

It's all about putting into practise what you've learnt and doing some simple revision. Learning a language is very much a process of learn, repetition, revision and repeat.

Give yourself a motivation

We hear it all throughout school (how much talk did we hear of SMART goals?), university, in our professional life, in our personal life - every goal needs a target.

To keep yourself motivated, you need something to aim for. Maybe book yourself a cheeky holiday so you can put your newly acquired language skills into practise, learn the lyrics of 5 songs, go to a language exchange event and only speak in your target language. Heck, maybe pluck up the courage and ask that sexy señor(ita) out on a date - after all, they say you learn a language in two ways - in the crib or in the bed (Mam, please forget you've every read this).

Give yourself a goal you want to achieve and you'll find yourself picking up the grammar books and giving verb conjugations hell, even when motivation is running low.

And finally...

Make mistakes again and again and again

Obviously don't make them on purpose, but do not be afraid to make mistakes.

This is probably the biggest fear which cripples language learners. To be honest, it still gets me at times now. But you have got to be prepared to make a t*t out of yourself. Confidence is a huge part of language learning and the old adage rings true in this case - you've got to fake it until you make it.

Consider every single, excruciating mistake to be a lesson. Say you're horny instead of hot, stutter and stumble your way through a conversation and say yes to everything, even when it's not a open question.

The emotional memory of embarrassing yourself will be a good deterrent to ensure you never make that mistake again.

Be unashamedly keen to learn a language and your progress will rocket in no time.

Oh and if someone is critical about your language skills?

If it's a constructive criticism, take it on board, learn from the point and make a note to focus on it.

If it's a straight out, your *insert language or accent here* is *insert negative adjective here* then here's my mature advice - haterz gon' hate.

The ones who tend to be overly critical are the ones who:

A. can't speak another foreign language
B. have an overinflated opinion of their own language skills
C. don't know what it's like to be in another country, dealing with another language and culture

Make a mental note to keep at it, improve your language skills and go back to them when your language skills are unreal and throw them a few V signs in their direction. People who try to bring your confidence down aren't worth your time.

Learning a language is quite possibly one of the most amazing things you can do, in my opinion, and it's one of those incredible things when you learn something new each day.

It is, however, no walk in the park and there will inevitably be obstacles and challenges getting in the way. But with every challenge accomplished and every obstacle overcome, you will realise how great learning a foreign language is - and it will make you want to learn more and more each time.

What are your top tips for new language learners? Which language(s) are you learning at the minute?

Friday, June 12, 2015

5 ways learning a language has enhanced my travels

As much as I may have already banged on numerous times about HOW BLOODY FANTASTIC LEARNING A LANGUAGE, I feel I have not covered it enough on the blog.

And whilst I was mid-way through doing my usual procrastination, thinking about blogging, I had that light bulb moment everyone has and realised I should change that.

So I've only gone and decided to do a weekly linguistic feature because as much as I could talk until the cows come home about how great languages are, I have barely scratched the surface with it right here on the blog.

So this week I thought I would start off easy and talk about my experience of learning a language abroad and how I've used languages to get even more out of my travels.

Travelling in its own right is of course an incredible experience. But combine it with learning a language, getting a deeper insight into a country's culture, bonding with the locals etc. etc. and you've hit the jackpot.

I cannot stress enough how useful learning a foreign language is, especially if you're planning to travel in the near (or even faraway) future.

So here it is, here's the many ways how learning a language has enhanced my travels.

1. It's made travelling so, so, so much easier

OK, sure you may find yourself making a fool of yourself on many the odd occasion but knowing you can ask for directions, order food, get advice or simply read signs will make your life on the road a walk in the park in comparison to having to lug the phrase book out or find someone who can speak English.

2. I've saved money thanks to my language skills

Numbers will be easier to understand, you'll have an idea as to whether that's expensive or not (or you can ask around and find out) and the best bit of all - you can haggle, barter and negotiate to your heart's content. Surely you want to have as much money as possible to enjoy all the finer things in life on the road rather than waste them on taxi rides which cost double the amount they should?

3. I've bonded with the locals

I don't know why but I hate saying 'locals', it's one of those of travel clichés which drive me mad. But it's that the best way to describe my point. Anyhoo, my languages have helped me have chats with people I otherwise wouldn't have. And as we all know grannies and grandads are the best fountains of knowledge (and banter) I have ever come across and you get to learn so much about where you're going.

Plus if you've got a granny on your side, hell hath no fury like an abuelita scorned so she's got your back.

4. I'm more aware of my surroundings and 'street-smart'

Another travel cliché I hate but having knowledge of the local language has helped me be more aware of what's going on around me and in some cases prevented me from getting into some sketchy situations. What's even better is thanks to my decidedly gringa looks, people assume I can't speak Spanish and I can act blissfully ignorant whilst know exactly what's going on.

Having language skills can be your secret and a very powerful one at that.

5. I've learned more about the country's culture and it's added to my travel experience

That's not saying that without learning the language, you have no comprehension of the culture whatsoever.

But what I am saying, from my personal experience, is that once you try to get into their language's mindset, you start to understand a little bit why certain things are the way they are. Especially once you start learning the slang and idioms, you have a little window in their culture which you wouldn't have otherwise. Plus, you understand music lyrics, can read their newspapers and watch their TV (hello telenovelas, if you're a big fan of trash TV like) and it just adds to your travel experience.

Obviously there are many, many more than 5 ways that learning a language has enhanced how I travel, however I didn't want to waffle on too long and I think these are enough to convince you to dust off the ol' Rosetta Stone (other language learning resources are available) and brush up your French, Spanish, Mandarin or whatever language it may be.

Plus, your travelling buddies will absolutely love having a translator in the group so it's one way to make new friends on the road too (obviously your dazzling personality and charisma will shine through too).

How has learning a language enhanced your travels? Which language would you like to learn?