Everyone loves going on holiday! But learning  a language for vacation even for a week away is often something that people put off doing as they don’t think it’s worthwhile or possible. It’s ALWAYS worthwhile and it’s ALWAYS possible.

You can learn enough of the lingo to help you out in awkward situations in as little as 7 days. Although for best results a month will give you a decent grasp of the basics. So if you’re ready to get your vacation language skills up to speed, read on…

Reasons Why

Have you ever been in that situation on holiday when you’ve wanted to ask a local directions or to ask what that item of food is? Or to ask what is happening with the big noisy crowd? Maybe even to ask what wine they recommend? I’m sure you have.

Simple questions and understanding basic responses can be picked up relatively quickly.

I have used some simple phrases in Thai and Polish to request vegetarian food for my girlfriend. I’ll often try to learn numbers if I’m going to be somewhere for a week at least and simple questions such as where, what and when.

In a few weeks you’re not going to be having complicated conversations about current events or your hopes and dreams for the future, but you can be interacting meaningfully. And you’ll find that being able to do so will enhance your experience of your holiday in ways that might surprise you.

Think about it, if someone comes to you and asks you a question in broken English you do your best to help them don’t you? (Well, I hope you do!) By that reasoning even if your French is clunky and awkward, or your conjugation of Spanish is hopeless, it doesn’t matter. If you can say “Donde esta la playa?” or “Ou’est la gare s’il vous plait” in your broad English speaking accent you’ll find people will be more than happy to help you.

When to learn

Let’s say you’re going away in three weeks, that’s 21 days. Perfect.

The basics for all languages can be learnt in one sitting. By which I mean: Yes and no. Please and thank you. Hello and goodbye. Sit down, read them or watch a video on YouTube, repeat out loud – several times. You should be good to go in an hour or less. That includes Mandarin Chinese by the way.

Progressing beyond the basics can be daunting, especially if it’s not a language that’s similar to English. For latin based languages (French, Spanish, Italian) you should be able to squeeze in the advanced basics within a week or two. Germanic languages (German, Dutch, Scandinavian) should be similar.

Slavic languages and non European languages can be extra daunting but being in the location can help you to accelerate your speaking confidence. Just get the basics down and you’ll tune in when you’re there.

It’s never too late to start learning, so even if you’re going away tomorrow you can get started and be at least cordial by the time you land.

Download the DuoLingo app for a fun and free way to get going with lots of languages.

How to start

As mentioned above start with the absolute basics.

  • Greetings (Hello, good bye, how are you, fine thanks).
  • Numbers (1-10 is fine to start with, build on that as your progress).
  • Questions (What, where, when, how much).

Even if you only learn those simple phrases you’ll be fine for the whole holiday.

However you can make your holiday enjoyment better if you choose a few target phrases. As mentioned before my girlfriend is vegetarian, so as standard we will learn the phrase ‘I am/she is vegetarian’. In addition to we usually learn, ‘No meat’ or ‘Without meat’. We recently went to Austria with a gluten intolerant friend so we also picked up the phrase for gluten free in German, which is actually ‘Gluten Frei’. Not so difficult.

Helpful other holiday phrases can be:

  • ‘A table for…please’ or ‘Do you have a table for…’
  • ‘What is this?’ (can be done with pointing but verbal query often yields a better response)
  • ‘How do we get there’ (often accompanied by pointing)
  • ‘The bill please’ (the universal sign of ‘check please’ works but it helps to say it out loud).

Try to avoid getting worried about your accent when speaking. Concentrate more on pronouncing the words right than the accent and speak slowly too. You’ll probably find that people will let you get away with a lot just because you’re trying!

If you’re then going for making friends and interacting beyond simple holiday activities such as sightseeing then you’ll need to step up to some social phrases.

  • Where are you from/I’m from..
  • What’s your name?/ My name is…
  • Do you like? /I like…
  • Do you have?/ I have…
  • Do you want?/ I want…

Once again don’t worry about accents or even how well you’re pronouncing. Getting stuck in is what matters if you’re looking to be social and you’re bound to make friends just by being keen to learn the language.

What to use

Never mind phrasebooks, there’s a lot of material that you can use to get started now. If you’ve got a few weeks then I strongly recommend using a good book, the Teach Yourself series are excellent (links below to my recommended reading).

Complete Spanish (Learn Spanish with Teach Yourself): Book: New edition (Teach Yourself Complete)

Complete French (Learn French with Teach Yourself): Book: New edition (Teach Yourself Complete)

DuoLingo is a good way to reinforce what you learn as you go but I wouldn’t rely on it completely. It is a great tool though so definitely install it if you’re looking to get going.

LanguagePod have a free channel on YouTube  where they do loads of languages. From French and Spanish through to Swahili and Persian – I highly recommend checking out a few of their videos as they are fun and informative.

I often refer to iTalki which is excellent for serious language learners. It’s basically the Facebook for language learning where you add friends and chat away for free. You can also hire teachers online which is great if you’re getting serious.

But above all…

The most important thing is to have fun with it and not worry about aspects such as correct grammar or looking like an idiot. Simply having a go will earn you kudos points in most countries and you’ll already be ahead of many English speakers just by trying.

As you use the basics you’ll find it becomes natural and you’ll become more confident to try new phrases as you go on. Language learning is fun so don’t put any pressure on yourself to be fluent within so many weeks. It’s an ongoing process and just being able to communicate simply is priceless and will open doors for you.

So get stuck in…!

1 Comment

Bablofil · 1st April 2017 at 9:25 am

Thanks, great article.

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