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Part of the fun of travelling is going to a place where you don’t speak the language. It’s fun learning new words and phrases for things and trying to figure out a way to communicate with people when you understand little if any of each other’s language.
I’ve always tried to at least learn the basics like hello, please, and thank you when visiting a country where English isn’t the dominant language, but making the effort to learn more can be really rewarding. Especially if you’re travelling for longer than a short break!
For a recent trip to the French countryside, I decided I wanted to try and learn French, or at least, some basic vocabulary and grammar. Learning a language from afar can only get you so far, and it’s often said that you can learn more in a short time in a country that speaks that language than in months or years of study at home. So I decided to put that to test with the Rosetta Stone language learning program and what I dubbed “Project French”.
Why learning another language is a good idea
Although I learnt and promptly forgot the basics of Japanese in high school language classes, and grew up learning various Maori vocabulary as a child in New Zealand, I didn’t make the effort to thoroughly learn another language until I moved to Spain to teach English. Simultaneously trying to learn a language while I was also teaching my own was definitely an interesting experience!
Learning another language is an eye-opening experience. For one thing, it gave me a huge appreciation for anyone who even attempts to speak English when it isn’t their native language. Because learning a language is hard!! It definitely takes work and is one of those things where you get out what you put in. Sure there are some language learning hacks and useful tools, but it comes down to you putting in the effort.
So why do it?
Learning even the basics of another language can help you understand another culture on a deeper level, and actually, your own. You realise how much identity and language can be intertwined with particular phrases, customs, and truths that are ingrained. It can help you to think of things from another viewpoint, and in turn, have a better understanding of the place you’re in or visiting.
Studies have shown you can improve your memory and attention-span by learning another language, not to mention the benefits when it comes to applying for a job in today’s global market.
When you’re travelling you can avoid being an obvious tourist target and open yourself up to more authentic experiences if you understand even a little of the language and what’s going on around you.
Learning another language means having to make yourself vulnerable, as anyone who has tried will tell you that speaking is the most challenging part of the experience. You have to get over your fear of being embarrassed, because it WILL happen at some point, and when it doesn’t you’ll want to be able to laugh it off with the people you’ve just made a fool of yourself in front of. Trust me, some words sound much more similar than you think…
If you move to a country where the people speak another language (something you definitely shouldn’t be afraid of doing!) then you’ll be able to settle in much more easily if you understand even the basics of language, and be able to make friends and join in with cultural experiences you might not otherwise be able to do.
Over the course of a year in Spain, I had plenty of time to go to lessons with a private tutor, talk with newfound Spanish friends and practice my Spanish in everyday life. Very different to giving myself a crash course in French just before my trip and in the much shorter time I was there!
Why I wanted to learn French
While learning to communicate despite a language barrier can be a fun and eye-opening part of travelling, it’s also nice to be able to show you’d made an effort to learn the language of the people you’re interacting with.
Having spent over a year learning and living Spanish, I wondered what it would be like to try and learn a language (or the basics!) in a shorter time and without the help of a personal tutor but a language app instead. Would I be able to be disciplined enough? Could I make myself understood in basic situations? Is learning another language easier the second (or third if you count English!) time around? And is what I have heard true, in that learning French is easier if you’ve learnt Spanish first?
And so I turned to Rosetta Stone…
What is Rosetta Stone
The Rosetta Stone language learning program, aptly named after the ancient stone that was key to deciphering Egyptian hieroglyphics, has been helping people to learn foreign languages for 25 years. The program has evolved considerably since the beginning and is now cloud-based and accessible from desktop, mobile or tablet. Basically, you can download the app on your phone and you’re good to go! It is a paid subscription resource, although you can access a Free Demo to see if it’s right for you. There are different subscriptions you can use, with the monthly rate dropping for the longer you sign up.
The course includes 20 Language Learning Units with 4 lessons in each, as below.
- Language Basics
- Greetings and Introductions
- Work and School
- Past and Future
- Friends and Social Life
- Dining and Vacation
- Home and Health
- Life and World
- Everyday Things
- Places and Events
- Tourism and Recreation
- Professions and Hobbies
- At Home and Around Town
- Style and Personal Wellness
- Business and Industry
- Arts and Academics
- Emergency Situations
- Family and Community
You can also have access to a live tutor where you can practice speaking, which is a really important aspect of learning the language. In total, you could expect to take around 120-200+ hours to complete from Levels 1-5.
The benefits of using Rosetta Stone
While you can buy books, attend classes, or search for free online resources for learning a language, there are some benefits to Rosetta Stone to help with your learning.
- You can learn in your own time and at your own pace, unlike in a classroom setting
- You can choose what to learn and focus on what will be most useful to you in the situation. For example, I wanted to learn a few basics, and then food and travel related French to help with my trip.
- You can learn the basics fast as it’s all set out for you in the app or on desktop
- You learn without realising it. Rather than a list of vocabulary, you’re able to learn through interaction and repeating exercises, and the way the lessons are put together means you review material as you go without realising it.
So how did Project French turn out?
In the week before my trip to France I was logging in to my Rosetta Stone app every chance I had, and I then also while I was in France to help me with situations I encountered and hadn’t done a very good job of making myself understood without knowing any of the language! For example, I used the Phrasebook to quickly help me with sentences for when we went out to eat, and for asking for directions.
Although it wasn’t a lot of time to learn a new language, and I’d definitely need to put more effort in over a longer period to really be able to speak and understand more, I did feel that it enhanced my travel experience. I was able to understand various words, and when we went to a museum where a video was played only in French I understood enough words with the pictures to guess at the context, something I couldn’t have done without using the Rosetta Stone app.
In regards to whether its possible to be disciplined enough to learn a language on your own, I think it comes down to you! When I know I will have an actual situation to use the language in or it’s for a purpose then I find it much easier. So I would recommend booking or planning a trip if you’re learning another language for sure!
And is French easier to learn once you know Spanish? The jury is still out on this one, as I think I need to spend more time learning to see. However, I did find that I was able to understand some things that were close to the Spanish language but maybe not as close to English, so it did help. What I found quite difficult is the French pronunciation, as Spanish is much easier to master and said exactly as written (once you know a few small tricks!). French is another matter entirely! I would never be able to try and learn just from a book, because how you pronounce things can be so different from how it’s written. Other than just allowing you to hear the words and phrases, Rosetta Stone has an incorporated technology called TruAccent® which recognises your speech and lets you know how accurate your pronunciation is, which can help you improve.
In general I think that once you have gone through the effort to learn one language (albeit I’m not totally fluent and still consider myself a rather beginner Spanish speaker) your brain can make better connections because you understand how to learn a language and more aspects of grammar than you probably did when you just spoke your native language!
Overall it was fun to try my hand at another language with the help of Rosetta Stone, and after using the program for French I want to continue to try and learn more (it’s a little addictive…) but I’d also like to get the Spanish version to help me go over aspects of the language I’ve already learned and as a way to practice and not forget things!
Have you tried to learn another language, on your own or in the classroom? What was your experience like?
I was given access to the Rosetta Stone Language Program in order to learn French, but as always, all opinions are my own!