How to Learn a Language on the Fly

As surfers we travel all over the world on the search for waves, and an amazing swell forecast will generate a flurry of short-notice flight bookings and apologetic calls to work. While you may be preoccupied thinking about all the time you’ll be spending in the water, remember, you’re going to have to make it to the beach first. Thankfully, two of our well-traveled contributors, surf-explorer Kepa Acero, and photo journalist Sandra Tinari, shared some of their tips on how to pick up a language quickly.

1. Buy a pocket dictionary—before you go! That way you can practice on the plane/train/bus, and you won’t feel stranded upon arrival.

2. Learn the basics. Knowing a few local words goes a long way. “Hello, good bye, yes, no, please, thank you and how much?” are pretty essential to start. But if people start speaking beyond your understanding, save yourself and fess up: “I’m sorry I don’t speak ___. Do you speak English?” is a good one to know too.

3. Greetings and manners extend beyond words—learn the proper way to greet someone. “Like we give the hand,” Kepa explains. “The natives could have a different way. Do it to every person as you know more people. No matter young, old, poor or rich, everybody deserves a greeting, and so do you.”

4. Learn the words for common foods and dishes in the area, even if you’re feeling experimental. That way you can boast about the insane dishes you tried when you’re back home, or avoid repeated bellyaches.

5. Write key words and phrases on the cover of your travel journal or on a card in your wallet, somewhere that you’ll see it often. Seeing it repeatedly will help them stick. Heidi, our blog editor, suggests carrying around a notepad and pen.

“Then, if you’re talking to someone and writing it down, you can ask them exactly how to spell it,” she says. “Anyone I’ve done this with LOVES to help. Plus it’s a great conversation starter and usually leads to them giving you advice on local spots to check out, places to stay, etc.”

6. Eavesdrop. “When you arrive in a foreign country, spend time at the local farmers’ markets or small cafes near where you are staying,” says Sandra. “In just seeing and hearing people going about their daily lives you pick up useful phrases and can have fun practicing using them!”

7. Take a cab.  In Sandra’s experience, “cab drivers are always willing to have a chat and teach you new words in their language or the right pronunciation, whether it is Portuguese, Indonesian or even Cockney rhyming slang in East London.”

8.“Talk to the local people,” Kepa says. “That´s the only way to get a fascinating experience you will never forget.” Start by going to public places and events like parks, markets, sporting events and festivals, the kinds of places that allow you to mingle.

9. Talk a lot and make mistakes. “People love it when you try to speak their language. It’s not only respectful but shows an interest in their culture and way of life,” says Sandra. “The good news is that people usually don’t mind if you don’t say things perfectly. They are just happy that you tried.”

10. Use your body. There are only so many ways you can greet someone before a conversation loses its luster. Don’t be embarrassed or shy—motioning and acting things out will help you break past the language barrier and get into real conversations.

11. At the end of the day, check back at what you learned. Repetition, repetition, repetition.

12. Show respect. “There is this universal language, which is to treat the people with equality,” explains Kepa. “That is the language that shows that behind the skin there is always a human being.”

Check out Kepa’s work at kepaacero.com, on Instagram @kepaacero or here on Korduroy:

Filmmaker Feature

Filmmaker Feature Follow-up 

Sandra’s work rocks out at http://sandratinari.com/, on Instagram @sandratinari and here on Korduroy:

Surfing Sandcastles

Surfing the Slow Life

Portugal’s Surf Essence

Artist Interview

*Images provided by Sandra Tinari and Kepa Acero

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