I recently returned from a vacation in Poland, in which I visited three cities over the course of 10 days. Prior to this year, I knew not a word of Polish, but I thought it would be a good idea to take an introductory class so I had a few basic phrases once I arrived.
Did it ever pay off! By learning practical travel information such as restaurant menu options, train- and admission-ticket phrases, street directions, and how to ask for help (plus how to ask if the local speaks English), I was able to navigate with increasing confidence as the vacation progressed.
If you live in a major city, you can usually find affordable language classes at your local adult education center or annex school. However, if a class doesn’t appeal to you, there are plenty of other resources available, such as language-learning software, introductory workbooks and dictionaries, and practical phrase books, typically available at any bookstore. And many lessons are often just a download away. For my sister’s upcoming trip to Paris, she’s been reviewing French by purchasing lessons off iTunes, then brushing up on her iPod during her daily commute.
If you are planning a trip to a non-English-speaking country in the near future, I highly recommend taking a class or using an at-home study tool to learn a few basics. You’ll be amazed how far they’ll take you once you arrive—and how friendly the locals become when they see you’ve done your homework.
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