China tour guide

Our most recent infographic was all about ways to learn while travelling. In that list we talk about learning the local language. Now, this is not just a way to put your mind to work but is obviously incredibly useful for travel itself. Learning a few phrases in the local language can make all the difference in helping you acclimate to a new environment. Being able to communicate your needs simplifies travel, so that you can enjoy more important things. And most importantly, it helps you to make connections with locals much quicker.

We’ve put together this list of 6 of the best language learning tips for travelling in Asia to get you started.

China Forbidden City Tour guide

Be Confident

The simplest, but arguably most important, piece of advice for language learning is to be confident. When you travel, you’re brain is often in overdrive learning new bits of information, remembering important travel times and making sense of your new surroundings. You cannot be expected to do all this and also remember to pronounce a whole new language perfectly! So stop worrying about making mistakes and be confident with what you do know.

Use your hands

In countries like Vietnam, Thailand and China, a different tone can completely change the meaning of a word. In china, you may think you are asking a question but the locals think you are asking for a kiss! In these cases context is important and an easy way to make things even clearer is by gesturing. Point to products you want while saying the word or mimic the shapes and sizes of things. You can also use gesture to ask questions about words you do not know. This ties into our next language learning tip which is:

Ask questions

Make the most of your interactions with locals, especially tour guides, by asking questions about the local language. Identify new words or ask people to check your pronunciation and you’ll be guaranteed a smile. People will be grateful for your efforts and you may get a mini language lesson in return, or even make a new friend.

Chinese elderly playing cards

Pay attention

In many Asian languages there may be sounds you have never heard before, that do not really exist in your own language. Pay attention to the exact movement of people’s mouths as they speak to give you a hint about how you should be making the sound. The lips, teeth and tongue are all important! Staring in many Asian countries is a lot more acceptable than in the West too!

Remember gender

Lots of travellers pick up on the “kaa” and “krab” that Thai people often use at the end of sentences to make them polite. Many, however, fail to realize that they are gendered terms. If you are a lady use “kaa” and if you are a man use “krab”. This is a great way to make even the smallest phrases sound more authentic. Similarly, in other Asian languages, like Vietnamese, you can use different polite ‘names’ that are dependent on who you are speaking to and yourself in relation to them. Learning these differences will really give you brownie points among locals.

Practice, practice, practice

The only way you will get better at a local language is through continued use of it. This is true of any language, with or without a lot of studying. Take every opportunity as one to speak as many words as you know to as many people as you can. This may mean adding in local words to an English sentence if you only know one word, but that is ok! The more you use the knowledge you have, the more confident you will become and the quicker people will understand you. In turn you’ll feel more rewarded for your efforts and you’ll want to have that feeling again by learning even more.

Language learning can be one of the most rewarding aspects of travel and really enhances the interactions you have with locals. What are your best language learning tips?

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6 top tips language learning asia

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