One of the biggest reasons people choose to travel is to experience the world from the perspective of a different culture. Learning the local language is one of the best ways to do this since language plays a key role in guiding how people think. If you really want to understand another person’s life, walk a mile in their shoes as it were, thinking and communicating in their native tongue is one of the best ways to go.
Of course, “learning a new language” is easier said than done. Lots of programs and blogs exist already explaining how to learn the fundamentals of a new language. To bring your ability to the next level, however, you need some kind of immersion, plus lots and lots of practice. Here are some ways that using Spotted by Locals can help you get that immersion and practice, and achieve your goal of mastering a new language.
1. Surround yourself with local conversation
First and foremost, the vast majority of spots you’ll find on Spotted by Locals are frequented mostly by locals. That’s the whole point: we want to help guide you away from the crowds of tourists flocking to the same cafe chains they visit at home. By visiting local favorite restaurants, bars and cafes, you’ll be surrounded by native speakers of the language in the country you’re visiting, giving you a chance to practice listening (obviously we are not encouraging you to spy on people’s conversations, but it’s fun to see if you can pick out a few words or understand the gist of a sentence). Best of all, any conversation you hear will be natural and conversational, giving you the most authentic exposure to how that language is actually used in day-to-day life.
2. Hear the accent in the articles
Did you know that all of our Spotters must speak the local language of their city? For many of them, that language is their mother tongue, and this “accent” often comes across in the articles they write. The writing style is sometimes quirky-sounding and intentionally not overly-edited by a native English speaker. Sometimes, an article you read might be sound just the slightest bit off to an English-native’s ear, but this is a great way to get a sense of how the author uses their own native language. Whether it be the unusual ordering of the sentence or a word that is not-quite-real English, the articles themselves are an insight into the mind of a foreign-language speaker – quirks and all.
3. Culture and performance
Say you’ve gotten to a relatively high level of proficiency in a certain language and decide to visit that country. In the city you might decide to watch a play or go on a tour in that language – but there are so many! How do you find good ones? Performances and events in a local language are often, unsurprisingly, aimed at locals, so can be difficult for visitors to find. Our Spotters have you covered for this as well. They often write articles about their favorite local theaters, bookshops and other event locations, and will mention if the place only uses the local language. These tips will help you find great spots to really up your language game.
Here are a few examples:
Teatr Barakah Art Cafe, Krakow – small, local favorite theater that puts on bold contemporary performances; all plays in Polish
Street Art, Brussels – join a tour to discover the best street art in Brussels; all tours in French
Word Order, Saint Petersburg – cozy indie bookstore; all books in Russian
Eugenides Digital Planetarium, Athens – enjoy large-screen films about astronomy, the origin of life and other cool scientific topics; all shows in Greek
4. Explore further out
When using Spotted by Locals tips, you might explore a larger area of the city than you would normally. Tourist hot-spots are generally grouped around the city center. In these central areas, especially in large cities, sign-posted directions might be translated into English for tourists’ convenience, and every barista and waiter will speak English as well.
As you tread further afield this will disappear, giving you plenty of chances to practice reading the language you are learning in a real-life setting: on signs, restaurant menus, billboards, even graffiti, all around you. You might even have to use the language in restaurants or when asking directions, depending on what city and area you’re visiting. Overall, your brain will be forced to actively engage with the language – and I mean forced in the best possible way. After all, necessity is the best motivator.
5. Find fellow language learners
Many of the locals who write Spotted by Locals articles are lovers of travel and language learning, and will point out some great spots to work on a new language. Lots of cities have cafes or bookshops that host language exchange events and casual conversation evenings. You’re sure to find people to practice with in fun, relaxed environments.
Some top spots that offer language exchanges:
Taalcafé Mundial, Ghent – a language cafe that gathers together both Belgians and foreigners, who want to practice any of 20 different languages
Wohngemeinschaft, Cologne – an open-minded hostel and bar that organizes events such as language exchanges and travel presentations
Gemelli, Podgorica – a vibrant student bar that hosts language exchanges among other fun events
MovaNanova, Minsk – a project to promote and help people learn the two official languages of Belarus (Belarusian and Russian)
Kiwi Cafe, Tbilisi – a cozy vegan cafe (the first in Tbilisi!) that hosts weekly activities including a language exchange club and movie screening nights
Otherwise, Rome – an independent English bookshop with regular events like book clubs and language exchange, aimed at fostering intercultural community
6. Follow our community of Spotters
We have around 500 Spotters in more than 80 cities around North America, Europe and the Middle East who are always on the lookout for great local spots. Many of the spots will help you get authentic exposure to local language, as discussed. But you don’t even have to leave your home to benefit from their insights. If you notice a Spotter whose articles you particularly enjoy, check out their profile to find out more about them. Many also share links to their social media accounts – and this is where the language exposure comes in.
Follow a Spotter you like in a city you’re interested in, and they might post things in their native language. This is a great way to incorporate some passive language exposure in your daily routine: bite-sized practice that you can glance at while scrolling through your Instagram feed with your morning coffee.