Traveling Abroad? 6 Language Learning Posts Before Going!

It’s not too early to look for travel destinations abroad and do some language (re)learning…

So, you’re planning to travel abroad this year?

If ever there was a time we’ve looked forward to seeing more than our backyard and neighborhood, it is now:

With the Covid-19 vaccines slowly making their way into many countries, it’s not too early to look for destinations for the summer and fall.

We thought our experiences in traveling and learning various European languages might motivate you to do some language (re)learning.

What follows are several articles about traveling and language learning which we’ve published on our sister site.

Travel destinations collage

Language Learning Before Traveling Abroad? Maybe! But When & What to Learn?

Maybe you were already able to get vaccinated and are planning to travel overseas later this year – assuming this becomes possible again?

If you are like us, then you’ll also study a bit about the countries you are visiting.

Does it include a country whose language you have studied in school or college?
Then your preparation will be different than if you don’t know anything about that country or language.

And it will again be different if you plan to stay there for more than a few days – as we did for before our five-month stay in Rome after my retirement.

Indeed there can be various reasons why learning a new or brushing up on an “old” language may be a good idea.

One of our guest writers did so recently in “5 Reasons for Learning a Language Before you Travel”. (see below)

3 French Travel Guides

Why Travel is a Great Language Motivator

Indeed, just the prospect of traveling abroad always motivates us to learn or brush up on a language we know.

We’ve always found ways to “get into the mood” of the country or region we were planning to visit: We play some songs to soak up the new sounds. We cook up a couple of dishes and learn the local names for them.

Of course, we watch some travel videos. We also look for a mystery novel (in English) that’s set in the place where we’re going. Then, there’s art to explore in museum sites online, history to read up on, cultural events to find out about.

And even, if we have no clue about the country’s language, we’ll learn more than just some essential words.

We did that for Danish, before traveling through Denmark and staying for one week in Copenhagen.
(And, as you read on, you’ll also learn why I developed a love-hate relationship with Danish…)

World Travel destinations

5 Reasons for Learning a Language Before you Travel

A few years ago one of our guest writers summarized well the major reasons for learning a language before traveling.

For Hidaya (as for us) meeting new people, understanding their culture better, exploring off-the-track locations, being prepared for emergencies, and trying out the new language – are key reasons as well.

Interestingly enough, she agrees with us that learning the local language for a trip shouldn’t be “too demanding”. As she says: “Personally, I only take about 45 minutes to an hour a day for 2-3 weeks before visiting a foreign country.”

If it’s a classroom or self-study language that you’re re-learning, you may actually enjoy stretching out the preparation time into a few months.

Hidaya also points out, that in any case, a visit to a country or region will give you the chance to test your pronunciation, to try out your language for real.

Indeed, wherever you plan on visiting, being able to speak the local language, even if not fluently, can bring along a number of great benefits.

Bordeaux, France – Map

Before You Travel: 9 Tips to Boost Your Language Skills

A couple of years ago, we were planning to spend 2 weeks in Bordeaux, followed by another week traveling through the wine country and Périgord region.

While both Ulrike and I speak French quite fluently, Ulrike was super eager to take up her French a notch or two.

On that trip, she was happy with how easily she could engage in French with the people she encountered.

In this post, she describes the 9 practice techniques that she used.

But, these techniques also work for a new language that she learns before traveling.

There, she just focuses on the words and phrases that will be useful for her travels, even though she practices the same way.

So have a look. Surely these techniques can also help you learn a few essential travel phrases or get to the next level of the language that you once learned.

Airplane in sunny sky

Traveling Abroad – “Everybody speaks English anyway”- Really?

When we try to argue the benefits of learning another language it’s not unusual to hear: “Why do it? Everybody speaks English anyway!”

Many Americans and for that matter many natives of other English speaking countries (Ireland, UK, Australia, New Zealand, etc.) often feel that the effort of learning another language is just not worth it.

This may be true if you stay close to the Cruise terminal or never travel off the beaten path.
But if you don’t, knowing at least a few basic words becomes a matter of necessity when you’re looking for the bathroom or a street or place to stay.

Admittedly, traveling with a guided tour group as part of an all inclusive package greatly reduces such necessity. But the inability to communicate in the local language may also limit your travel experiences.

Which language to learn?
Young couple ready for vacation

Which useful phrases should every traveler know?

Besides English and German (our native language) Ulrike and I speak several other European languages. However, during our travels to China and Japan these were of little use.

And although we spent several months preparing with Pimsleur audio tapes, we would never claim “to speak” either language.

However, we certainly learned and used many words and phrases that proved very helpful.

In addition to the greetings and polite phrases like please, thank you, excuse me, etc. , knowing Japanese and Chinese numbers proved especially useful.

We also found that in these and other countries asking for directions with “Excuse me, where is…?” would rarely let us understand the answer – but it was nearly always the gateway to a conversation in a language that we understood.

So – think about it. Even if English is your native language and the only one you speak fluently, learning just a few words and phrases of the local language can make your stay in a place so much more interesting and enjoyable:

It can become the starting point for more tips and insights, or simply the beginning of a conversation with a local resident – even if it continues in English.

If you have made it to the end of this post, you will have found many reasons why and how learning just a few essential words and phrases can enhance your travels and create some valuable memories.

Travels in Spain

We captured our experiences during stays and travels in Spain in 2012 and 2015 in several blog posts

Spain is a wonderful country to visit. In the spring of 2012, we lived in an apartment in Barcelona for one month. We then flew to Malaga where we rented a car. Driving up to Madrid, we took our time and visited Granada, Ronda, Seville and some smaller towns that were off the beaten track.
In 2015 we stayed for one month in Seville. We made a couple of trips to Cadiz, and at the end of our stay experienced the “Semana Santa”.

Here are our Blog Posts from our stays and travels in Spain, previously published on

Vila de Gràcia Square, Barcelona, Spain
Lunch on the “Vila de Gràcia” Square

Learning Spanish: Bilingual in Barcelona…

During our first few days in Barcelona we figured out how to get around town with public transport. We also discovered that Barcelona was really a bilingual city.

Carrer vs Calle de Mallorca
Calle de Mallorca, Barcelona, Spain

Learning Spanish in Barcelona – primera etapa de David en España

We explored the neighborhood of Gràcia, where our apartment was located. Not far from there we found “Carrer de Mallorca”, the Catalan name for the Calle de Mallorca (which plays a role in our Spanish 1: David en España course)

Our favorite Barcelona restaurant!

Spanish Learning and Dining – Solving Lunch and Dinner Mysteries

We studied the mysteries of Catalan menus in one of our favorite restaurants “O’Gràcia!”, located only minutes from our apartment. (Sadly, when we checked online recently, we couldn’t find O’Gràcia!’s website.)

First Steps
Taking his first steps

Barcelona Tips: First Steps for Building a Language “Basis”

Learning a new language always requires taking some first steps. And knowing some essential words and phrases to communicate will make the beginning so much easier.
Our (expat English-speaking) landlord Rob had some interesting and unusual ways to learn and improve his Spanish.

Reenactment, Vila de Gràcia, Barcelona, Spain

In Barcelona Learning “Spanish” is Not Enough

What amazed us most in Barcelona were certain statements we heard quite a few times, such as: “When I go to Spain…”, or “The taxes we are paying to Spain…”. Catalan people still don’t see themselves as a part of Spain.
Since our visit in 2012 relations between between “Spain” and Catalonia have not improved.

Typical restaurant check in Spain
Typical “cuenta” in Spain

La cuenta, por favor – adding up and making change in Spain

What we found interesting during our travels in Spain was the fact that the check/payment process never varied – whether we were in a little sandwich shop on the road in Andalusia, or in a hotel in the city of Seville or Madrid.

Off the Beaten Track in Carmona, Spain
Church of San Pedro, Carmona, Spain

Off the Beaten Track in Spain (1): Europe’s Oldest Town?

On our drive from Seville to Córdoba, we decided to stop at Carmona, a town of about 25,000 inhabitants and the first major town, about 25 miles east of Seville.
Our travel guide only had a short entry, but we were glad that during our travels in Spain we got off the main highway. The town is located on top of a hill overlooking fertile plains and it has an interesting history.

The Fuggers in Spain?
Courtyard in Almagro, Spain

Off the Beaten Track during travels in Spain (2): Speak Spanish

En route by car from Córdoba to Madrid (both “must see” destinations), we turned off the main highway and followed signs to the town of Almagro (“red clay” in Arabic), where we decided to stay the night.
It’s a small and stately town with an unusual history. We learned, for one, that in 1525 the Fuggers, a German banking family, due to the financial woes of Charles I of Spain, became the beneficiaries of cinnabar mines near Almagro and Almadén. (Cinnabar is a mineral from which mercury is extracted.)

Giant wooden mushroom structure in Seville, Spain

Learning Spanish – First Impressions of the Local Dialect in Seville, Spain

The Metropol Parasol in Seville dominates the plaza and surprised us during our first evening (see picture above) as we explored the neighborhood. Suddenly we found ourselves under what is locally called “las setas” (the mushrooms).
Designed by the German architect Jürgen Mayer, the Metropol Parasol is a giant structure, constructed of wood panels and steel. It was built between 2005 and 2011 to replace a defunct and derelict space.

ATM Troubles in Seville, Spain
Watching customer at Unicaja ATM, Seville, Spain

5 Tips for Dealing with ATM Troubles Abroad (And at Home)

When it comes to foreign currency, traveling has become so much easier: Instead of worrying about how much of the foreign currency you should change at home or at the foreign airport (do you still remember “traveler checks”?) – today you can pay with your credit card(s) in many places or withdraw cash at ATM machines all over the world.
Ever since an ATM in Barcelona did not return my card a few years ago, I have been reluctant to withdraw money from a cash machine at night.
And you will want to know what happened to us in Seville at the ATM above!

Ad in Seville for Spanish Class

How a Tutor Boosted our Language Fluency

It’s not easy for adult foreigners to meet and engage with locals, so we had a plan. We set up “live” language exchanges in advance and were determined to find a local teacher for conversation lessons.
We met two delightful locals who wanted to improve their English as much as we our Spanish: A young woman in the hotel business who had just been laid off, and a young Spanish teacher on vacation. We met them several times in Cafés and bars.
We also intended to ask our language partners if they knew any tutors for our remaining two weeks, but instead came across a notice posted at a nearby square. It offered: Clases de Español (see photo), and had a phone number attached.
Carlos, a licensed teacher of Spanish at a local school, spoke no other foreign languages except some Italian.
That he spoke no English was a huge stroke of luck for us. It forced us to express and explain ourselves only in Spanish.
He in turn, being a trained teacher, knew just when and how to correct us without interrupting the conversation too much.

Semana Santa "cofradías", Seville, Spain
“cofradías” or “hermandades” during Semana Santa, Seville, Spain

Impressions of Semana Santa in Seville, Spain

At the end of our one-month-for-fluency stay in Seville (March 2015), we experienced the two initial days of Seville’s amazing family festival, the Semana Santa (Holy Week).
The entire city seemed to participate.
Whole families, from babies to grandparents, and many groups of young and old came out into the street, especially in the late afternoon and evenings.
During Semana Santa, there were seven to ten daily processions, organized by the different “cofradías” or “hermandades” (religious brotherhoods), social organizations that play a crucial role in putting on the processions.

La Giralda in Seville, Spain

Language Learning and the Seville Dialect

During our stay in Seville, Spain (see picture above), we were again reminded how challenging local dialects are for foreign language learning.
As we also describe in a previous post: Learning Spanish – First Impressions of the Local Dialect in Seville, Spain, we noticed right away that some consonants are dropped at the end and in the middle of words, so “gracia” instead of “gracias,” “do cerveza” instead of “dos cervezas,” “E’paña,” “e’pañol,” etc.
And have you heard about the “Seseo” and “Ceceo” dialects?

So, if reading Travels in Spain encourages you to brush up on your Spanish or, at the very least, learn and practice the first 11+ essential Spanish words and phrases, then this post will benefit you twice!