Experiential Learning: How to Learn a Language on Holiday

Who among us wouldn’t love waking to the morning sounds from a Parisian boulevard? The scent of coffee mixing with the freshly baked baguettes and gently wafting in your open window, accompanied by the chatter of locals in the best of French. If you did ever return home, you’d do so with a smile on your face and conversational French on your tongue. Such a scene may be a tad over the top, yet it is possible to have a version of this language learning Nirvana while getting a good holiday into the bargain. Interest piqued? Learn a little more about holiday language learning experiences.

Photo via Wikimedia

Get the tongues wagging

Hotels in Costa Rica, Mexico and Barcelona, Spain offer packages which immerse you in Spanish. On arrival you receive a selection of books and a Spanish/English dictionary. Tours are in Spanish only, and you can go bird-watching, find out more about the local culture or eat at restaurants where they speak the native tongue. Some resorts offer daily classes for both beginners and advanced learners, which can be a great way to brush up on a language you may not have spoken in a while. Hotels provide bracelets which notify staff who are the language learners and they will only chat with you in Spanish. In Kenya, classes and tours are given in Swahili, while if you want to learn Arabic, you can do so at a selection of hotels in Morocco. Immersing yourself in the local language in such a way can only be a boost to what you are already learning at home. It is vital for kids to see why they are learning a language and for adults, it is a great way to put your skills into practice and have a bit of fun too.

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Hanging with the locals

Spending time with a local family is a step deeper into learning a language. For the last few years my family has taken in students from a local language school. We have ‘hosted’ young adults from Spain, France and Germany, usually students or those in their first years in employment. The idea is that they come to Ireland for three to six weeks, live with a local family, study at the nearby college and work part-time in a local business. The students eat with us, spend time with us in the evenings and one French student almost became part of the family, coming to birthday parties, going on visits to Granddad and trips to the beach. They are learning English as it is spoken, hearing how sentences are formed and quite often how rules are broken during conversation. The students are under no obligation to spend time with the host but they do see the benefits. Of course, the temptation to socialise while in Ireland is difficult to resist and they do really have a great vacation, while improving their language skills.

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Finding love on the west coast of Ireland

In Ireland we have the Gaeltacht system of learning Irish during the summer months. Teenagers are sent to the west coast to stay in areas where they still speak Irish as their first language. They have daily classes from qualified teachers and events at night to learn more about the culture. This is a great way to appreciate where Irish comes from and to learn the beauty of a language, which for most people has little practical use. Adults look back fondly of their time in the Gaeltacht, saying it was the best holiday they ever had and many the lifelong romance began at one of those nightly dance sessions. Learning is strictly imposed though and there is a ‘three strikes and you’re out policy’ in force, whereby you will be sent home if heard speaking English more than three times. Tough love if you are one of those sent home in shame, especially if you’ve spotted someone across the dance floor the night before.

Regardless of what happens on vacation the learning of a language in situ is very rewarding. Seeing the practical use for the language is a great incentive and what could be better than a hotel by the beach in Costa Rica, a stroll around Barcelona or a safari in Kenya?

Have you gone on vacation to improve your language skills? Have you a story to tell?