You have been learning a language for quite some time and can’t wait to show it off! Perhaps you have even managed to set some time aside to travel to another country where your second (or third or sixth) language is spoken.
Traveling is an awesome opportunity not only to practice, but to learn from the culture and meet new people. There are hundreds of blogs providing useful tips on what to expect and what to do.
However, if you are the type of person who loves a thrill and hates being stuck in their comfort zone, then let me give you some fun options to really challenge your language knowledge while you fulfill one of your most obvious needs: eating.
Ordering at the drive-thru
If you are willing to give up the comfort of eating at a table, I promise you will find this tip challenging. Ordering a meal to go at the drive-thru poses several difficulties:
- Neither the attendant’s voice nor your own will be as clear and understandable as if you ordered inside.
- You will have less time to check the menu.
- In most cases, there will be no opportunity for visual confirmation or context.
As a result of these challenges, you might need to repeat what you have just said. However, don’t get discouraged. Following this tip will certainly improve your communication skills and you will find that it will start to come naturally after a few times.
Customizing your order
Now, if you would rather eat inside, then I would suggest that instead of just asking for a simple “Number 2 Combo with Fries,” you take your order a bit further.
Why not upgrade the size of the drink? Perhaps add an extra ingredient or substitute a side salad for the mashed potatoes. This will of course require more thinking and talking on your part. Nevertheless, your effort will be rewarded. After all, we all love having things our way!
Sharing a meal with a native speaker in a noisy restaurant
There is nothing like eating peacefully in your friend’s garden with the sounds of chirping birds all around you. However, it is easy to understand what your friend says when there are no distractions. Thus, if you want to challenge your listening skills, then skip the lovely garden and ask your friend to take you to a popular restaurant during peak hours. Loud music, people laughing, your friend talking to you… it might not be as nice as the garden, but it will definitely help you to improve your listening skills.
Eating with your friends’ friends
Our friends tend to be considerate when they talk to us in their native language. They often make an effort to speak slowly and choose their words carefully. This is awesome and really nice of them. However, if you want to make the most of your travel and challenge yourself, then try spending an evening out with your friends’ friends.
When there are more people involved in a conversation, they tend to be less aware of how they speak. Be prepared to hear all kinds of jokes, slang and really fast speech. That will really get your brain working!
Ordering something completely new
If you get the chance to visit a place that serves food you’ve never tried before, you should pick one or two items off the menu and ask the waiter to explain them to you. Again, this is a good way of trying something different, while learning new words and concepts.
Bonus tip: Eavesdroping
That’s right! Listen to other people ordering their meals. How do they start their sentences? Do they say “please” at the beginning or at the end? What verb to they use: “need,” “want” or “like”?
Take note of everything! It will help you to sound more natural. Oh, and don’t forget to pay attention to what the attendant asks the person in front of you. They are likely to ask the same questions to you.
These tips are meant to help you go the extra mile. The situations described here are complex because there will be many elements that are out of your control and various obstacles that could challenge good communication (even in your native language).
However, if you are like me and learn better when you feel challenged, then by all means give them a try.
There are millions of ways of practicing a language while you are traveling, so only do what helps you. Take it as far as you want and never forget that learning a language should always be fun.
Happy traveling and bon appétit!