Whenever you visit a country where the primary language isn’t English, you have to answer the question: how hard should you work towards learning this new language before you head out? And how do you work out where and how you can learn it as easily and as cheaply as possible?
How much you need to know is dependent on what you intend to do and where you plan to go. Research your destination carefully; cities like Amsterdam will require little or no studying as most of the people you encounter will be able to speak fluent English. If you plan to visit Mongolia, however, you may want to ensure you can communicate in some form or another.
There are many different methods for learning your little bits and bats. The first is from a book, and this method has been tried and tested for donkey’s years. You purchase a phrasebook, which has the added benefit of being portable; you cart it along on your holiday and at the very worst you can show a local inhabitant the phrase you’re attempting to speak so they can respond accordingly. For this reason alone it is a good idea to purchase a phrase book, no matter what else you choose to do. The big downside of this method is that you have no way of checking how well you’re pronouncing the words; even books with pronunciation guides won’t give you the same feedback you’ll receive from an auditory guide.
DVDs, computer-programmes and CDs provide an auditory guide and will help you work out how to pronounce what you intend to say. They allow you to study in your own time, and you may even be able to track down some guides for your mp3 player, allowing you to immerse yourself in your learning during your daily commute or whilst exercising. However, the phrases used will be very limited and these methods are rarely optimised for conversational learning; your resulting knowledge will be formulaic and inflexible.
An in-person teacher or tutor will be able to give you a more flexible vocabulary. You’ll also know you’re pronouncing things correctly and be able to learn the natural cadence of the language as you go along. The big downside, of course, lies in the fact that it costs more than any of the other methods. It is also easy to forget that, in addition to your lessons, you should be practicing at home.
Carefully consider how much you need to know and learn in the best way for you. But don’t forget that phrasebook – it could save your bacon some day!