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There’s no getting around the fact that picking up a new language requires hard work, dedication and time, but it is equally undeniable that mastering the local vernacular has the power to take your travel experience to another level. Guest contributor James Tennet, currently in Argentina on a trip which began almost a year ago in Mexico, has picked up Spanish along the way and offered to share the following tips for anyone hoping to learn the lingo before heading to South America. You can track the progress of James’s travels at www.tennetstravels.com

1. Pre-Trip Preparation

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Obviously, the earlier you can begin the language-learning process the better. Taking private lessons is the most sure-fire road to success, and even a short, intensive crash course can arm you with the basic skills: a convenient solution if you are short of time. If it’s the financial aspect that puts you off however, the modern world offers a number of high-quality, low-cost (sometimes free!) downloadable options. Look online for audio guides or podcasts: perfect for bite-size learning during the work commute or any other spare moments you can muster.

2. Avoid Other Tourists

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Once your trip is underway, make a conscious effort to spend less time with other English-speaking tourists if you are serious about learning the lingo. If everyone around you is conversing in your native tongue, you’re unlikely to get many chances to put what you’ve learned at home into practice. There’s no need to ignore your fellow countrymen completely, but try to maximise your chances of exposure to local people and businesses. Avoid big chain hotels; instead look for locally-run lodgings or perhaps even a homestay as part of a language exchange programme.

3. Ignore Your Inhibitions

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It takes a lot of courage to strike up a conversation in unfamiliar vernacular, especially when the person with whom you are conversing is a native speaker, but this is undoubtedly the best way to learn. There are sure to be many mistakes, but once you can accept this, overcome the embarrassment and approach things in a light-hearted manner, your confidence will increase greatly with every attempt you make. Confidence is half the battle and once you realise that the locals don’t expect you to be perfect and actually appreciate the fact that you’re at least trying (rather than just talking louder in English and using exaggerated pointing), you’re well on the way.

4. Immerse Yourself

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Once you’re abroad, opportunities to learn will be endless, so make the most of them! Avoid the temptation to take the easier route in terms of tourism and media; buy a local newspaper, take a foreign-language tour. Many museums have exhibitions and artefacts labelled in a number of dialects. This is especially useful, as you can try reading the exotic option first, using the translation into your native tongue to help when you get stuck – a great way to learn new vocab.

5. Don't Be Disheartened

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Even with all these techniques and a strong desire to learn, a lot of time and effort is required and there will be plenty of frustration and failure before success. However, it’s vitally important not to become disheartened. Don’t lose sight of why you are putting yourself through this; being able to converse in a newly-learnt foreign language – that is, not only speaking the words but being fully understood, as well as able to comprehend the response – is immensely fulfilling and will open countless new doors on your holiday, giving you access to experiences that have previously been obstructed by a lack of shared dialect. Try to reflect daily on how you’ve improved and anything new you’ve learnt. Perseverance is required, as is a lot of practice, but keep plugging away and you can only succeed.

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