I think my friends who are fluently multi-lingual travelers might be God’s favorites. They flutter in and out of conversations, eavesdrop on the most glorious stories unexpectedly and embrace their fluidity and adaptability. As an obvious understatement, I admire it. Speaking with them though, I know it did not come easily. Whether polyglots or born into multi-lingual households, they all offered very similar tips as I started my journey to fluency. 

Starting to learn my third language, I decided to revisit some of these tips that my multi-lingual travelers eagerly offered me. Swamped with grammar books/sites, language apps, and all the subtitles and podcasts I could manage, these are tips I trust most. As I prepare for nomadic adventures in new unfamiliar languages, I promise you, as I promise myself, to let the experts show me how it is done.

The quickest way to learn… is to love

Credit: Andres Ayrton

You know I had to start here, because what is a traveling gworl without her romance stories, in multiple languages at that? It seems that the explorers among us highly recommend learning how to flirt well in your new language. Makes sense. Wanting to understand, express your personality, make jokes and be the protagonist that you are is all part of the motivation. 

Don’t be afraid to look silly

This is a big one. All multi-lingual speakers, whether raised in bi-lingual households or self-taught, make mistakes when learning a new language. Many of us get caught up in the fear of looking silly and completely forget how necessary mistakes are. All who offered this tip reminded me of how childlike and new you need to be to learn a language. This is how you build memory to get it right next time! All my multi-lingual friends pushed me to make mistakes, learn how to embrace them, and get truly childish with my learning. 

Start with children’s material

Children at modern school facility

This one surprised me. I tended to ease in with sophisticated articles and books so that I can learn the language that matches my company and sound advanced when I speak. The truth is, most polyglot friends recommend reading children’s books and watching children’s shows in the early stages. This helps solidify the basics. 

Make friends with native speakers ASAP

Black-Owned Restaurant

Filling your social circle with native speakers is a surefire way to improve your language learning. Whether you befriend your favorite waiter or join a dance class taught in the language, you’re sure to get yourself in the habit of thinking and forming sentences quickly in another language. It also means that you’re immersed in the language and have new words to absorb daily. 

Imitation is key

Getty Images

Learning a language requires you to embody the language with as much of your body as possible. Multi-lingual travelers recommend imitating, shamelessly and often. This leads back to the point about the childishness that is required when learning a language. Much like children who imitate everything they hear, language learners should get used to copying. Copy the word verbatim, imitate the intonations, copy the body language, and say it in your voice rather than letting the words live only on the page.

Try not to translate

Despite how very tempting it can be, multi-lingual travelers never recommend translating words when new to a language. That is to say, treat each object like you are discovering it for the first time. Treat vocabulary as an exciting thing that you’re coming across for the first time. 

Speak with other travelers in the language you are learning

A tip to get the whole travel gang up to scratch. If you hope to become fluent in another language, it does mean you have to abandon the other languages for a bit. That means, even when English is a shared language, not leaning on it as the go-to language. Speaking with other travelers in your desired language will help you improve and keep you in the rhythm.

Once you get started on one language, the others get easier

Good news for the soon-to-be polyglots, learning one language provides you with enough tools and knowledge of your learning style to start all over again, with more confidence. Many of my multi-lingual friends commented that the process of getting to know yourself in another language is almost addictive. Each language shows you different sides to yourself and the world so, naturally, you find yourself mastering another tongue over and over again… 

Related: Ten African Languages Added To Google Translate