Joe and I have traveled to several countries where English was not the native tongue. Joe took Latin in school so his ability to translate is limited, but I took Spanish for 8 years, which helped when we went to Cuba in 2016, and immersed myself in Japanese In 10 Minutes A Day back in the mid-90s, which helped quite a bit the very first time I visited there.
Over the years we’ve noticed less and less need to learn much of other languages when traveling. If you have internet access, there are plenty of ways to get translation on the fly, and even without data access, there are offline apps, plus miming can go a long way, or you can even wear clothing that will help with the basic of basics.
That being said, it still helps immensely to have a little bit of knowledge under your belt of the language of the country you’re going to visit, even if it’s just a limited yes, no, thank-you, you’re welcome, I’m sorry, the numbers 1-100 and the “question” words of who, what, why, where, when and how. Obviously, for such limited words or phrases, you may not want to spend a fortune. Fortunately, there’s an online series of courses that can teach you close to 40 languages, and they’re FREE! And besides the typical Spanish, German, etc., you know what else they teach?
Klingon and High Valyriand.
I see your eyes lighting you, travel friends who are nerds on the side ;-)/
Duolingo has been “out there” since 2011. Available online and as an (iOS and Android flavor) app, it’s a “freemium” (tso you get the whole thing for free, but with ads. If you don’t want the ads, you can pay) language learning platform that can teach the basics of (as of this writing) 81 different language courses across 37 different languages. The app currently has about 300,000,000 registered users around the world.
The app is available to teach the following languages for English speakers:
- Latin American Spanish
- Mandarin Chinese
- Brazilian Portuguese
- Norwegian Bokmål
- High Valyrian
Some languages (Arabic, Yiddish and Haitian Creole at the moment) are still in development, and there are a bunch of courses for non-English speakers to learn English and other languages as well.
The program is really easy to use. You make a profile, choose the language you want to learn and how long you want to spend learning it each day (it can be as little as 5 minutes a day). Duolingo is set up into modules to teach introduction words and phrases, travel, restaurants, family, shopping, school, people, greetings, emotions, leisure, activities, etc. so you learn simple words and phrases first (i.e. girl, boy, man, woman, he/she, is/are, etc.) and then build upon those to make sentences (i.e. I am a boy, you are a woman.).
The program is also a lot of fun to use. It uses cartoony sort of pictures here and there and gives adequate positive feedback and gentle negative feedback.
Of course, the program isn’t perfect. It doesn’t give background into whatever language you learn, i.e. in Spanish, people, as well as many nouns, are considered either masculine (and use the world “el” as the word “the”) or feminine (they use the word “la” for the word “the”), how the alphabet in Korean is organized, and other background information that would make learning easier. The short sentences they use for practice are also inadvertently made easier because the first word in the sentence is oftentimes the only capitalized word among your options.
And when you’re being tested in learning new words, they include photos that make it really easy to figure out which word you’re looking for.
So it does have its drawbacks. But hey, it’s free and fun and can teach you some basics. And depending on where you are, sometimes that’s all you really need.
But besides that, what better way is there to learn KLINGON and HIGH VALYRIAND???
So yeah….Duolingo. It’ll give you the basics and hey, it’s free! So if you just need the basics (or even more) of a new language, or if you want to make your inner nerd happy, why not give it a try?
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This post first appeared on Your Mileage May Vary