People travel for a bunch of different reasons. They are interested in seeing various attractions, museums, food, architecture, landscapes, nature, culture, history and so on. But traveling is a complex activity and one can't completely avoid interactions with local people. Well, maybe unless you stay in all-inclusive resort or hire a personal guide. And even if you can - what's the point of depriving yourself of one more side of travel adventure?
As to independent tourists, understanding of some basic words and phrases could make a huge difference. Isn't it nice to be able to read a signs "push" and "pull" on the doors and not to struggle when entering or exiting buildings? Or know right away whether the store is open or closed, whether train is delayed or ATM is out of order? In all countries people would be delighted when visitors great and thank them in their language, even if they switch to English after that. And if later is a matter of courtesy, other reasons are directly related to your convenience and safety.
Usually people plan their vacations in advance, oftentimes two or more months ahead. That gives a sufficient time to learn some basic words and phrases. While learning basic vocabulary takes some time and effort, it is easier than you think. Even 15-20 minutes a day will build up sufficiently in couple of months.
“But I still won’t be speaking freely!” Yes, but at least you will be able to say “Hello!” and “Thank you!” and local people would greatly appreciate your desire to communicate in their language. Learn some numbers and it might help you to get to the right train. Learn the phrase “Where is the restroom?” or “where is the bus station?” and people will show you the way.
A lot of people mistakenly assume that English is understood everywhere. In reality, it is not. Unless you stay within beaten tourist path, you will likely run into situation when you can’t even ask how to get back to the center. So please, take a time and learn some phrases and take your travel experience to the next level!
For those who is ready to dive into the new adventure, I prepared the list of resources I used for studying Italian, Spanish, German and French:
Podcasts by Radio Lingua "Coffee Break languages".
In short 25-minute lessons they teach languages from the very beginner to intermediate level. What I like about Coffee Break Italian (Spanish, French, German, etc) is following: the lessons are tailored specifically for travelers, starting from very simple phrases and gradually building more extended vocabulary. All lessons are fun and friendly, and as the bonus you get some cultural information on the respective country.
Where to get:
•Listen to free podcasts on Spotify (Search for Coffee break Italian/ Spanish/ German, etc.)
•Watch free videos by Coffee Break Languages on YouTube
•Go to https://coffeebreakacademy.com/ for all their courses (the premium content requires a purchase)
Bottomline: Free content is quite sufficient for average language learner, I have never felt missing the paid content. But I am sure that if you decide to get more of it, you will not be disappointed. These guys are amazing!
DuoLingo: quite effective tool for exploring new language and reviewing/memorizing vocabulary, but Duolingo alone is definitely not sufficient.
Anki: If you like to use flashcards, check out https://apps.ankiweb.net/. Anki decks is a wonderful way to build up vocabulary.
Forvo: Clear pronunciation matters! If you want to be understood, take some time and practice sounds. Check out Forvo - online pronunciation dictionary: https://forvo.com/
Italki: Ready to practice new conversation skills or feeling that you need a personal teacher after all? Go to https://www.italki.com/. How it works: You set up student account and upload some funds to your "italki wallet". It might be as little as 20-30 dollars. The funds will be withdrawn from your account only after lesson is completed. One hour lessons usually start from about $10/hour. Now browse teachers of your target language. They all have a video introduction of themselves, you can look at their profiles and see all credentials, amounts of lessons already taught, student reviews and ratings. Note: there are two teacher types on Italki: teacher and community tutor. Teachers have a certification of foreign language education and for the most of them teaching is a primary profession. Community tutors are native speakers who can help you to improve conversational skills. Obviously, sessions with tutor are less expensive than with teacher. I always go with the teachers, as they have more defined curriculum, PDF of the textbooks and exercises and simply more experience in teaching.
Tip: choose the teacher who is native speaker of your target language. This way you may be sure that you will hear correct pronunciation from the day one. Plus, all your questions on culture will be answered with confidence.
All resources above can be used for almost any language. Below I will list textbooks that I find useful:
There is also enormous amount of language learning apps for smartphones, you may try some and see what works for you the best.