Learning common languages in uncommon places
Stepping through the airport doors and into a country where every word flying out of people’s mouths holds absolutely no meaning is a sudden and shocking introduction to feeling lost and somewhat helpless. Asking something as simple as ‘where is the bathroom?’ becomes a pantomime of geriatric like contortions coupled with a remarkable display of giving voice to an array of guttural pleas and odd mewling sounds that wouldn’t be out of place in a David Attenborough feature on ‘ The lesser spotted Rough Faced Shag’’ (Yes it is a real bird name).
Being able to speak the lingo in a foreign country just opens you up to a wider and deeper experience of the place, the culture and the people. Listening to audio programs and sitting through a semester of listen & repeat drills and lectures based on the intricacies of masculine and feminine verbs is a start but it just doesn’t come close to actually getting on a plane and jumping in at the deep end. A great way to add more than just a twist of the tongue to your linguistic learning experience is to actually head to a destination that is off the beaten path and not normally associated with being a great place to learn your language of choice. Here are three great options that will have you not only marveling at your own capacity to run off at the mouth in another tongue, but at the strange and exotic places you will find yourself in.
Learn French in Marrakech, Morocco
Situated at the foot of the Atlas Mountains, Marrakech is a city bursting with vibrant, almost magical life. This imperial capital is overflowing with culture and curiosity and the rewards for those who commit to spending some time here are immense. It offers a rich and unrivalled blend of African, Arab and European influences, from traditional outdoor souks to sidewalk caf?s and everything in between. It is a wonderful place to allow oneself the time to become thoroughly imbued in the culture and learn a new language. French is learnt from school going age in Morocco, so finding a teacher willing to spend a few hours a day with you shouldn’t be much of a problem. It’s always a good idea to get yourself a tutor to guide through the intricacies of learning a new language, as well as help with your intonation, pronunciation and to teach the useful phrases and local dialect that will have you winning over the hearts and minds of the locals. There is no better place to practice and hone your newly acquired French skills than by heading to the Djemma El-Fna. Haggle your way through labyrinth like lanes brimming with snake charmers, acrobats and soothsayers, a multitude of food stalls, spice markets and clothing peddlers. When the hustle and bustle of the city become too much, an excursion into the most intriguing and majestic part of Morocco, the Atlas mountains, is a must. Visit traditional Berber villages, marvel at panoramic views of the desert and sit around a campfire under the North Africa sky conversing in your newly acquired language. Not a bad way to conduct a French class some would say.
Learn Portuguese in Maputo, Mozambique
Mozambique is one of Africa’s rising stars in terms of travel. With over 2500km’s of stunning coastline to be discovered and explored and a developing infrastructure allowing access to previously inaccessible regions teeming with wildlife and raw, African beauty such as the Gorongosa National Park and Northern Mozambique, making a trip to this part of the dark continent somewhat enlightening. Oddly enough, many an unwary visitor here have found themselves stepping off the bus expecting to hear the locals clicking away in Swahili or Zulu. It comes as quite a surprise to learn that the official language of Mozambique is Portuguese, which is a letdown for those expecting to learn ‘Kumbaya’ in a native African dialect, but it affords those looking to add the language of Vasco De Gama to their linguistic arsenal with an awesome opportunity. Entrepreneurship abounds in Africa like nowhere else on the planet, so coercing a local who speaks both English and Portuguese to tutor you 1 on 1 as well as act as your personal guide shouldn’t be very difficult at all. Maputo is a great place to start off, giving you a great feel of an authentic Southern African city which boasts some modern and welcome influences, such as lively jazz bars and sidewalk caf?s which make for the perfect setting to hold formal style language classes. The Maputo Fish market will afford the perfect opportunity to practice your Portuguese as well as stock up on some incredible seafood for ridiculously low prices. Of course, this is Africa so to expect the ease, convenience and luxury of the first world is a big mistake. For that kind of elegance you’d do best to follow the tourist trail along the coast to some of the tourism lodges and seaside enclaves catering to those with the budget for them. ‘Boa Sorte’
Learn Spanish in the hometown of Pablo Escobar, Medellin, Columbia
When someone mentions Columbia, usually the first idea that springs to mind isn’t ‘learning Spanish.’ This South American country’s reputation amongst the rest of the world community has been somewhat tarnished over the years, and it remains a fairly dangerous and volatile place to live or visit. Proposing that someone spend some time in a Medellin homestay program with a Columbian family learning Spanish, sounds to most like a globe-trotting version of Russian roulette. The truth of the matter is that this is one of the best ways to not only learn Spanish, but to also experience on of the world’s most notorious cities in a safe and highly authentic way. Having a local family as your teacher’s as well as guides around this part of Columbia will ensure that you get to experience the Real Columbia. So set aside fears of being kidnapped by Narc Guerilla’s or becoming the centerpiece of an elaborate cocaine smuggling plot and look forward to experiencing the authentic Medellin.
When it comes to learning a new language, there is no shortage of countries to live in for a while in order to really immerse yourself in the task, but for a truly unique experience, one that couples language learning with a dynamic travel adventure, the above three mentioned spots are as good a place to start as any.