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6 Surprising Places to Learn a Language Faster

Louvre in Paris. What better way to learn French?

I’m fully aware that learning languages is not really a sexy business. That’s mainly because of the places usually associated with language courses: classrooms, language schools, university halls…yawn.

Today’s post is a desperate attempt to bring the sexy back! Get ready to visit six places where foreign languages are surprisingly present – and think about how you can use it in your language learning. Ready? Hop on then…


1. Museum / gallery

If you’ve ever been to a big museum or an art gallery, you’ve probably noticed people walking around with earphones. This is obviously a nice way to find out more about what you see and experience – but who says you should only listen to it in your own language? The next time you go, request an audio pack in a language you want to learn. You’ll still have a great time – having fun and listening to foreign speech in an engaging context. Re-sult!

Advanced version: Try to hang around a guided tour in a foreign language. Challenging, but rewarding!


2. Restaurant

This one is simple and brilliant. Ask for the menu in two languages. Order your food and keep the menu. Then, start comparing the two versions. If you’re in a foreign language, ask a waiter (nicely) how to pronounce certain words – if they’re not busy, they’ll be happy to help. Bottom line: you’ve learnt several words for food and drink, and probably managed to taste a few!

Caution: Not all restaurants’ menus are translated even passably well. Don’t take their translations as gospel.


3. Street market

I remember a sunny day on a meat market in Athens – and the incredible feeling I’ve had when walking through it. Hundreds of voices, dozens of languages and dialects, a symphony of words and noises. At the same time, the topic of all conversations is usually predictable – you talk about the things you see, and about the price.

How to do it: Just walk, and ask “what is it?” and “how much is it?” – repeat each word and number aloud. Remember to walk from one stall to the next – you’ll make the merchants angry if you take their precious time chattering away!

Caution: Yes, you do learn a lot this way – but it’s a sure-fire way to spend a lot of money. Also, you attract attention. Make sure no one picks your pockets while you’re busy learning!


4. Seminars / conferences

Who are the most important people on a conference? If you said “guest speakers,” you’re probably right. But interpreters take a close second place.

These people are language ninjas. They move from one to another with amazing ease, rearranging and re-composing sentences as they hear them. Juggling seven chainsaws? Please. Ever tired simultaneous interpreting?

How to do it: Pick a conference or a seminar you know something about, and go. Make sure you listen to speakers using the language you want to learn – or, if the speakers are using your mothertongue, make sure you ask for an audio pack for your chosen language. This is a nice way to learn more about a subject of your interest – and the language you pick up will be even more relevant to you!


The Crimson before the Party

You could be having long, inebriated conversations here. So why stick to your language?

5. Hotels

One of my favourite films, “Lost in Translation,” takes place almost entirely in a posh hotel in Tokyo. The atmosphere is depressing at times – but fortunately, not all hotels are like this!

I remember the first time I arrived in Swansea: my B&B was amazing, and it truly made my day on two occasions: it had Welsh TV and a Welsh-speaking proprietor. What better way to pick up some nice words and phrases? And then, there’s the hotel literature, translated into several languages for your convenience…

Caution: The low quality of translations on hotel marketing brochures is, by now, legendary. Proceed as with restaurants above.


6. City / town council

I don’t’ usually go to my city council unless I have some taxes to pay. What I remember about every city council I’ve been to, though, is this: they are trying really hard to spread the word about their city or town.

This involves foreign languages, or course.

How to do it: Ask around for an information pack in a language of your interest. It’s OK to say that a friend of yours is coming over to visit 🙂 If you’re lucky, you’ll get what you came for – and maybe even more, like an audio pack?


I’m sure there are more places where learning languages is a pleasant extra. What are your ideas? Comment below!

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