Being able to communicate with locals can significantly enrich your experience abroad. Not only are you less likely to get ripped off, but picking up a few local phrases can also immerse you more fully into a foreign culture. If you make an effort, speaking the local lingo can provide you with unique insights into the residents' customs, gastronomy, history, architecture, and much more. Are you eager to get started but don't know how? Here's a series of both online and offline tools that you can use to learn a foreign language, fast.
1. Join an online community
"The best way to learn a foreign language is to visit that country and immerse yourself in the culture and language, but for many traveling across the world isn't an option," explains Michael Schutzler, CEO of Livemocha (www.livemocha.com). Livemocha is an online community that pairs language learners with experts in that language. Members can use video, text, and chat to communicate in a fun and engaging way. "In order to master a language, you must engage in conversations," says Schutzler. "Livemocha brings cultural immersion to you in the comfort of your home, office, library or coffee shop."
2. Use computer software
Rosetta Stone (www.rosettastone.com) prides itself as being the "#1 language learning software." In contrast to other softwares, its philosophy relies on "a natural method that teaches the new language directly, without translation."
3. Take advantage of apps
Thanks to smartphones and tablets, you can learn languages on-the-go. Take advantage of a long layover to brush up on your vocabulary or pronunciation skills. The Pocket Languages apps for iPhone and iPad (www.innovativelanguage.com/products/Pocket) include 10 complete lessons with audio tracks, vocabulary lists, flashcards and more. You can even record your own voice and compare it to that of a native speaker. The apps are currently available for Arabic, Chinese, French, German, Spanish, Italian, Korean, Russian, English, and English for Japanese.
While you're on the road, you can consult apps such as iTranslate (www.sonicomobile.com/itranslate-iphone/) which translates over 50 languages instantly. In fact, you don't even need to know what the source language is; the app will recognize it automatically.
Frommer's has its own language translation app to help you brush up on common words and phrases—and it's free. Get it here: www.frommers.com/frommers-translator.
4. Talk via Skype
If memorizing vocabulary on your own sounds monotonous why not go for something more interactive? Via Skype (www.skype.com), you can not only take private classes, but you can also participate in discussion groups. Consult The Mixxer (www.language-exchanges.org), a free educational website for language exchanges via Skype, to find a language partner. After that, you can talk to him or her via Skype, and write a blog to receive corrections and feedback -- all from the comfort of your own home.
5. Find a language school abroad
Technological tools can only get you so far. Should you want to move beyond the virtual, it's time to take a class in person. Transitions Abroad (www.transitionsabroad.com) serves as a very comprehensive resource for finding language schools abroad, as it continually features first-hand reports from participants who evaluate the courses they took. Before you sign up for a particular program, be sure to inquire about the language levels offered, how long the classes are, and whether extra-curricular activities and/or housing is included in the price.
6. Attend local events
Ultimately, the goal should be to take your skills beyond the classroom. Local events are a unique opportunity to practice, learn and at the same, pursue your other interests. For example, if you're a cinephile, why not attend an independent film screening in Buenos Aires to envelop yourself in Argentine Spanish? Or if you're a gourmet traveler, you could sign up for a cooking course in Paris to perfect your French?
There are a myriad of opportunites, it's just a matter of finding one that is useful, fun, and interesting for you.
Isabel Eva Bohrer (www.isabelevabohrer.com) is a freelance travel writer and photographer who has dispatched pieces from over twenty countries across five continents. She strongly believes in cultural immersion, and through her travels, has perfected her fluency in six different languages.