Osaka University of Tourism’s
Travel to Learn a Language
If you are generally a shy person, then you will more than likely be terrified of the need to speak to people in order to practice your English. If you are studying a language such as English, invariably your teacher or friends will say something like, “Don’t be afraid of talking English to the people who are around you.” While you may agree that this is a good idea in theory, often it is the people who are around you who are the most difficult to speak with in a new language. This might totally be due to your expectations of how they will react to your efforts, but you might clam up when confronted with the thought of speaking in English with them nonetheless.
Have you ever considered getting out of your current geographical location for the sole purpose of putting your spoken English to the test? Travel is your best shot at doing this. If you wish to go to another country anyway, why not make the purpose of your trip to improve your speaking skills. You don’t need to measure your performance before and after you go, but that is also an interesting idea. A good way of doing this is by registering to take a third party standardized language exam before you leave. Some exam preparation textbooks even evaluate your current performance and tell you where you might benefit from some focussed study.
Wouldn’t it be great if you decide your travel destination completely on where you believe will be the best place for you to go out and meet strangers who speak the language you wish to become more proficient in! You can choose the shops that are likely to have staff who want to, or are compelled to speak with you for extended periods of time. Make sure that you choose a non-bilingual option so that your shop or travel activity assistant will be talking to you almost all day in English. Don’t be a passive listener. Go there with the attitude of talking back. When they give you some information ask them to clarify. Say things like, “How many years ago did that happen?”, or, “Who was the person who designed this building?”, or, “What is the thing that you like the most about this area of the city? Why?”
Probably you will be spending a lot of money on your travel. You can use the idea of spending that money and all this time from your allotted holidays motivate you to get your value’s worth. Personally I like to go to the local supermarket. I figure out how to ask what foods are, and how to cook them. Usually people will talk to me quite freely, and ask me questions back about myself and where I am from. As long as they want to take a rest from their jobs, I am happy to chat with local people in the markets. They may be too busy, in which case I will just let them head off to their jobs, or they may in fact be bored out of their skulls and be looking for a distraction. I am not shy of getting in touch with locals in this way. I try to be friendly, and cheerful, and that way I have made some long term penpals/ SNS friends too.
Be sure to pick a place that you feel comfortable in going to alone or with only one other friend who is also keen to make speaking English the focal point of their trip. Don’t get drawn into the trap of speaking to people who are proficient users of your first language. It is safer, but think of all that improving you can do if your travel experience is crammed full of opportunities to speak and every conversation that you have is started from and finished in English. You might even get a little tired or stressed. Don’t worry. This is quite natural. Put up your dukes and fight on.
You have to learn to be a little selfish too. What I mean by this is that there are numerous people where you are going who are trying to learn your language. They may not easily have the experience of travel. It is totally up to you, but when I am traveling I think of my language goals the most. I don’t travel to see the scenery, the sunset over the bridge or the tallest building in the world. My ambition for personal travel to date is, and has always been to gain language proficiency through meeting and talking to people. In maintaining this purpose, I have become good at only speaking my target language. I figure that if the person who I am talking with cannot tolerate the poor ability of my speech in their language, they have the option of walking away.
So regardless of how poorly I speak their language, I do not reply with English when they speak to me in English. Sometimes they even get angry with me. Push through. If you can speak your target language as I do, I can almost guarantee you will improve, and when you come back to take the language examination again, you might surprise yourself by how much your listening skills have grown. That is correct. You heard it here first. Listening skills improve proportionately to the amount you speak in another language. Get traveling. Get talking.