You may dream of learning the basics of a foreign language to impress your friends & family on a holiday. This article talks about the reasons for learning holiday language vocabulary and how to do so.

Learning foreign language phrases for holidays

You may want to experience like a local

You imagine that by learning a language you could experience life like a local, make foreign friends and show off to friends and family you travel with. You may possibly even get to stay in a local´s home for free on your next trip if you make foreign friends.

Being able to do all of these things obviously depends on many factors (some of which are outside your control). However, you can be sure that speaking a foreign language on holiday can be rewarding.

How not to learn a language for a holiday

It may sound strange to start off by talking about how not to learn holiday language vocabulary. Nonetheless, knowing where most people go wrong can help you see clearly the best way to learn a language.

Many people learning a language for a holiday typically end up flicking through an old phrase book on the plane journey to their holiday destination. If you have done the same, you were probably too late to learn anything other than a handful of words. In any event, you would probably have been frightened to speak to locals in the foreign language when you arrived.

You may even ended up struggling to remember simple things like “thank you”, “yes” and “please” in the local language. (Some people may even end up accidentally say the French word in Spain or vice versa).

So let´s get it clear, learning last minute, even with the help of a phrase book, is not the way to go.

Why a phrasebook can be a hindrance

A phrasebook may be useful for looking things up, but how many natural conversations do you have with a phrasebook? Even if you ask a question and it is understood, will you understand the answer? Phrasebooks can only show you a limited number of possible answers to questions.

A book can also not really help you with your accent. You may get blank looks or you may even be corrected on your pronunciation if you pronounce something wrong. Some languages have sounds which don´t exist or are alien to many English speakers.

You may find lose confidence using the language and give up trying. In short whilst a phrasebook can be useful to refer to, it not really teach you how to pronounce things properly or use the language in a meaningful way.

Why not to be embarrassed about not knowing a language

There is no need to be embarrassed about being unable to speak a foreign language. You´re not alone. However you should really try to do your best to learn, even if it is the basics. You may even enjoy the process.  Discover why below.

Why to learn foreign language phrases for a holiday

Many British people think that they are not expected to speak a foreign language. This does not mean that you should not try. In many places English is not as commonly spoken as people anticipate, particularly outside of tourist hotspots.

Even if your waiter, hotel receptionist, etc can speak English, you will have a completely different relationship with these people if you can speak the local language. They may let you into local secrets or possibly be more willing to give you free upgrades, etc.

Imagine the surprise on a Spaniard or a French waiter´s face when you order your food in the local language and the waiter actually understands your order first time. These little interactions speaking in a foreign language are rewarding and will make you want to learn and speak a foreign language more.

In essence, learning a little bit of the local language could give you a totally unexpected holiday experience. You could get to make friends with locals. From a selfish point of view this could lead to you possibly be able to stay with a local for free on a future trip or other benefits.

Being more realistic there is no guarantee of future free accomodation, but you will inevitably feel good about yourself speaking another language. You will feel less like a tourist and will impress your friends and family as well as locals.

Learning even a few simple phrases and ways of saying things could make your holiday experience feel much more authentic. If anything, it will break the ice with a stranger who may otherwise only see you as just another tourist.

You do not necessarily need to learn everything for a holiday

Obviously you could learn a language over a longer period of time, but for a holiday you could learn the basics within a relatively short period of time. You just need to learn in the right way.

Admittedly you may not learn how to say everything you possibly could want in a few weeks, but if you learn a little bit of the language over whatever time you have you may surprise yourself.

The key is to focus on the topics you will probably need on your holiday, such as:

  • Asking for directions
  • Ordering food in restaurants
  • Shopping phrases
  • Numbers
  • Greetings

The more time you have to learn, the more topics you could focus on. As a rule of thumb it is usually a good idea to learn some things well, rather than lots of things badly.

Start learning as soon as you can

A key tip for learning holiday language phrases is to start learning from as early a stage as possible.

Many people will do at least some research into their holiday destination, but typically will not start learning the language until sat on the plane or shortly before the trip. This ultimately leads to many people trying to learn unfamiliar words quickly by flicking through a foreign phrase book at the last minute or even at the destination.

Learning the basics of a language during a quick flight is likely to be impractical even if it is a ten hour flight. Let´s face it, most people will end up watching the in flight movie instead or lose concentration.

To learn even basic phrases and how to pronounce them within a short time is likely to be a very difficult task regardless of what books, apps, etc. you have. If you give yourself as much time as possible to learning, the more likely you are going to succeed.

Learn a little bit at a time

The longer the time you have to learn, the better, even if done in short bursts.

In brief, it is much more effective to try to learn one or two words or phrases a day than to learn even a limited number of things at the last minute. You need to give your brain time to absorb and become more familiar with the language.

Learn what you are really saying

In practice, language learning can appear challenging when you don´t understand the foundations to the language. Books and apps may teach you how to say things in a certain way, but the skill is knowing how to say what you really want.

One key aspect of learning holiday phrases is learning to think like a local and appreciating that there are differences between languages.

Thinking like a local is not really about culture, but understanding what you are literally saying is key to speaking a foreign language. Learning a language by learning lists of phrases and vocabulary without knowing how to put sentences together or what you are really saying will inevitably be much harder.

You may at this stage be thinking that this all makes learning a language daunting. However, there is a logical explanation to how languages work. By taking language lessons you could learn not only what to say, but also why you are saying things in a certain way.

For a discussion on how you could learn holiday language do get in contact or visit the Spanish, French, Italian or German learning pages.