The ability to speak another language can open countless doors. Not only does it make travel easier, but it can allow you to connect with other people in a way you couldn’t before.
Some of my favorite moments in Mexico and the Dominican Republic came about when I chatted up the locals. People’s faces lit up when I responded en español. My Spanish wasn’t great at the time, but I laughed and smiled a lot and was able to communicate in an authentic manner.
I think a lot of Americans don’t make the effort to attempt speaking the local language. Instead, they assume everyone speaks or should speak English. I still cringe when I think of one overweight gentleman who continued to increase his volume when a waiter clearly didn’t understand him. That’s not what I want my country or myself associated with.
It’s important to remember that you’re a guest in someone else’s home place! Making an effort to respect that goes a long way. By being friendly, I ended up getting local scoop that most tourists don’t and a free jet ski ride!
It never hurts to improve your proficiency in a language or keep yourself sharp between travels. Here are some ways I’ve honed my skills, mostly from the comfort of my living room couch! I’ve chosen to focus on Spanish, but these are applicable to any language you’re working on.
I’ve written about this incredible free app before, but it deserves another mention. This is not sponsored, but Duolingo has added enormous value to my life so I want to share it with others. Grammar and vocabulary tutorials are available for a ton of different languages. The app even helps you practice your pronunciation!
2. Changing the Settings on Technology
I changed the language settings on everything I could think of to Spanish. This includes my Mac, iPhone, Facebook, and Gmail account! Sure, I’ve had to search a word or two online when on my laptop and Siri now gives me driving instructions in Spanish. The extra few minutes has resulted in me learning a lot of new words! It also keeps my brain engaged with a second language throughout the day.
3. Reading the News
I started keeping up with current events and reading the news in Spanish. My favorite online news source is now El País. I also recommend Buzzfeed as a place to practice reading pop culture. The settings are pretty easy to change, and you’re probably already wasting time on the internet anyway. At least if you’re doing it in another language you can feel better about your life choices!
4. Watching Television
I’m a huge fan of soap operas, mostly because of how dramatic they are. Netflix has some great options for foreign films and series. Turn on the subtitles, not in English, to make it easier to follow along with rapid native speakers. This might be a bit difficult if you’re a beginner but is great for intermediate speakers.
Pandora, Youtube, and Spotify all make it easy to access free music in any language you choose. I’m partial to Pandora because I can add my favorite artists and the station will automatically introduce me to similar performers. I’m currently listening to Marc Anthony, Jesse & Joy, and Shakira.
How have you improved your language skills? I’m always looking for new tips!