Language Learning While Traveling: 3 Ways I Stay on Track

Okay, so, I don’t do the crazy nomadic traveling a lot of bloggers and language learners do. Not by a longshot…. Instead, I have two very busy weeks of visiting around the holidays this year in Pennsylvania and in California. Two stints on airplanes, a handful of long car rides, and plenty of activities with friends and family members. It’s a lot of fun, but it’s also very busy, and, being the introvert I am, there’s not a lot of downtime for language studying.

When things get a little hectic like this, my main goal is to “tread water” in terms of my language progress. I don’t put much stock in improving drastically during this time; I just try to ensure that I’m doing something. Keep coming back to the language and all that! If I do end up seeing improvement, that’s swell, but I’m certainly not expecting it. I’m definitely okay with skipping studying/listening/reading on some days! It’s important to spend time with people, and I know I have an environment back at home that allows me to study languages to my heart’s content.

Anyhoo, here are three ways I try to tread water with my languages!

1. Taking advantage of airplanes, yo!

Sure, airplanes are tiring and you want to catch up on sleep. But while I stare into space, I listen to Spanish, Dutch, or something else. I’m not paying too much attention– especially since before yesterday, I didn’t even have noise cancelling headphones– but it’s something, and I think it helps maintain languages.

I also try to carve out longer periods of time than usual to read in a target language. Usually like a half hour or longer– at home, I stick to shorter periods of time, like 10-20 minutes. But since I’ll probably be busy while I’m on vacation, I feel like I’m getting more language stuff in while I’m still on the plane. This might not reflect reality– it’s common sense that studying a little bit each day is way more useful than hyper-studying once a week. Whatever, though, it works for me!

2. Using downtime like a pro.

This could be obvious, but it works– I know I won’t be constantly busy while I’m on vacation, so I take advantage of downtime whenever I can. Ten minutes here and there most days pays off! When I come back after my trip, I still feel like the language is active in my head, and I can comfortably pick up where I left off. You don’t need big chunks of studying or immersion to tread water.

I use the Forest app on my iPhone to keep track of these 10 to 20 minute chunks of reading/listening/whatever.  For example, I can browse a couple articles on El País literally anywhere and then be at ease that my Spanish has been used! I also steal into a quiet room for a few minutes to watch Avondjournaal in Dutch on most days. I’m a fan of tiny reading chunks, so I might read 5-10 minutes of Sjakie en de chocoladefabriek.

3. Loading up on podcasts when there’s internets!

Self-explanatory like everything else. As you may have been able to tell, after my beloved reading material, radio is a constant in my language learning life. I use it to practice listening almost exclusively– mostly through TuneIn Radio. TuneIn’s app, however, is glitchy and unreliable and sucks up data like no other. Thus, podcasts are my backup when I’m without radio.

Unfortunately, I’m super picky about podcasts– I like very high-quality material, not so much the hobby stuff people produce. And I like variety. This can take time to curate, so I make sure to remember the night before traveling.

Seriously, planes and trips are the only times I really listen to podcasts in huge, huge quantities.

Right now, I’m getting ready for my trip back across the country to California, and I’ve loaded my phone (I use the app Overcast— way better than iOS Podcast) with Buenos Días America (Spanish), Digitaal from BNR (Dutch), Zakendoen met from BNR (Dutch), Monumental (French), GiratemPod (Italian), and TBS Radio たまむすび (Japanese… Don’t judge my wanderlust!).

With enough podcasts, I almost feel like I have access to talk radio once again….

That’s how I keep going with languages even when things get busy with holiday traveling– how do you do it?




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