Tips to learn a language for travel

Tips to learn a language for travel

Are you traveling to another country soon? What do you usually do to prepare your language skills for the trip? If you are unsure or this is your first time traveling somewhere where you don’t know the language, read about some of these tips to learn a language for travel.

But first, why should you practice some language before you go?

I am a big believer in trying to speak the local language as much as possible. Learn some basic greetings at the very least like “hello” and “thank you.” But you could do more than that and learn to say your name, ask for directions, and so much more.

I personally think this shows respect to the people you are meeting. I mean, doesn’t it seem a little rude to travel half way across the world and just expect that everyone will adapt to English? With that said, English is just so widely spoken. In so many of my travels I have been able to get around with English.

With that said, I always try to learn some basic language before going. When I’m there, I try to say hello in the local language as much as possible.

Learning the language may also help you blend in (a little bit).

And finally, for safety reasons, I do think it’s important to be able to say a few phrases, OR to have the resources to look up an important phrase in the local language.

Now read on for some tips to prepare your language skills before you travel.


You should keep it fun! There are so many podcasts out there. You can find numerous podcasts that actually teach you basic phrases in common languages such as Italian, French, and Spanish.

You could also just listen to episodes done in that language. This might not help you with crucial travel phrases but immersing your ear in the language can help orient you!


See what groups already exist in your city or town to practice conversation in that language. Meet-Up offers great language conversation opportunities all over.


I love Duolingo! This is just one language app you can use. But I highly recommend it. I’ve used it quite a bit. I sometimes like to practice the Polish that I once knew. I used it while I was take a couple French lessons, and to practice my basic Spanish before our trip to Colombia. Now, I’m using it for our upcoming trip to Italy (check out our northern Italy honeymoon itinerary!). It’s a fun way to get immersed in the language you want to speak.

You can also set it up to have goals and even compete with a friend, loved one, or stranger!

The only downside to Duolingo (in my opinion) is that it’s not focused on travel-specific phrases. It’s a tested method to get people to learn a language fast. But this doesn’t mean you will learn “where is the bathroom” through Duolingo. You are more likely to learn how to say “there is a cat” or “the car is red”.

But you never know when you might want to say that on your trip 😉

Local language classes

Depending on what language you want to learn, it’s very likely your city or town has classes that already exist. For example, you could check out the community education guide in your city for affordable language classes for travel. These can be an affordable way to learn basic phrases for travel.

Another option could be to check out national agencies committed to your language-of-interest. For example the Alliance Francaise teaches French all over the United States (The higher price tag is reflective of the intensity!).

Google Translate

Google Translate will help you before your trip communicate with someone via email. I also strongly recommend downloading Google Translate for your language so you can use it on your trip without wifi or data. This can prove extremely useful!

Language dictionary

This might be old-school but you could consider getting a little physical language dictionary. I always like this because you don’t have to rely on your phone’s battery. Depending on where you’re traveling you may want to be conscious of not pulling out your phone to be a target.

On the other hand, pulling out a little language dictionary may also cause you to look like an outsider. But there are ways to do it!

I still have my little pocket Polish dictionary sitting on our bookshelf. I mostly just have it as a souvenir at this point.

More intense language apps

If you are really serious about learning more than some basic travel phrases, there are plenty of more intense travel apps and programs than Duolingo.

You could check out Rosetta Stone, Babbel, Ed-X, or Coursera are some examples!

Peace Corps

A random tip! If you are traveling to a country that speaks a lesser known language check out Peace Corps resources for that country. Often times they have language resources posted for that country for prospective Peace Corps Volunteers. You could just search in Google “Peace Corps _____ Language resources.”

For example, here’s a file for learning siSwati.

Okay, it’s probably unlikely you’re planning your trip to eSwatini, but you should consider it! Read about all the reasons you should visit eSwatini here!

Ask a friend

My final tip is to ask a friend that speaks that language to teach you a few things. You may not have a friend that knows the language you’re interested in learning. But if you do know someone, use them as a resource! You could make it a fun routine of getting together over coffee to learn some basic Mandarin, Thai, Greek, or Italian!

I hope these tips were useful for your next trip. You can find ways to incorporate them into your daily life! For example, I just spend a few minutes doing Duolingo a day!


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