Have you ever wanted to learn a foreign language but lacked the time or money to take classes in your hometown? Have you ever wanted to travel somewhere but were worried about not being able to communicate with the local population?

Then why not combine learning a language and travelling by studying the language in the country where it is spoken? Studying a language abroad has many advantages.

It is often cheaper than at home

Take Spanish for example. You can study Spanish in many countries in Central and South America, as well as Mexico and Spain. Except for Spain, classes are much cheaper than in North America. I’ve taken private lessons for as low as $7 US per hour in Ecuador (from a freelance teacher). Schools there charge around $10 per hour for private lessons. In Panama, private lessons were a little higher, around $15 per hour. Group lessons were even cheaper.

Spanish class, Córdoba, Argentina

Spanish class, Córdoba, Argentina

It gives your trip a purpose

Learning a skill makes you feel like you have a reason for being there, other than just sightseeing. It helps you settle into a routine (albeit a rather foreign routine) for a while and feel more like you belong. Also, if you have a type-A personality and think you’re wasting your time lying around on beaches, language classes give you a nice feeling of achievement.

You have the option of staying with locals

Many schools will arrange homestays for you, where you get a room and some meals in the house of a local person or family. This allows you to practice your new language, gives you a place to live, and feeds you, all in one fell swoop. It gives you an insight into the culture and how local people live. It also costs you much less than staying in a hotel, and is perfect for solo travellers.

Homestay in Boquete, Panama

Homestay in Boquete, Panama

Immersion means you learn faster

When you learn a language abroad, you usually study 2 to 6 hours a day for several weeks. You have homework to do. You use what you have learned immediately, when you need to communicate with your homestay family, the waiter at a restaurant, or the clerk in a store. Repetition is key. And more importantly, you hear the language all around you all the time. This is intensive language learning. This is immersion. You will be amazed at how much faster your brain can assimilate a language when it is constantly surrounded by it.

Contrast this with home where you may take a two-hour class once a week, and then find yourself using your own language the rest of the time.

Coffee stand, Cartagena, Colombia

Coffee stand, Cartagena, Colombia

You get more out of the country

Even with basic language skills, you can start connecting with the locals who will be impressed by your efforts. My experience is with Spanish, and I always find it amusing when people compliment me on how well I speak the language after hearing me say only four or five words!

You may get freebies. You may get invited to events. Who knows where a few words in the local language will take you.

Just being able to read words like “Open” and “Closed” and the days of the week will save you a lot of hassles. Knowing the numbers will allow you to shop and bargain.

You do not need to be fluent to notice a difference in the quality of your trip. All of a sudden you can stray away from the touristy restaurants (with the menus in four languages) and find more authentic (and cheaper) fare. You can read some of the labels in museums. You do not need to rely on tour guides who speak English as much (assuming they’re even available).

I could go on, but I think you get the idea. Planning your trip around language learning can be a very good idea indeed.

Street sale, Coimbra, Portugal

Street sale, Coimbra, Portugal

Online classes

What if you want to continue learning the language once you’re back home? Some foreign schools now offer private online classes, face-to-face, using Skype or Google Video Chat. Those tend to be a little more expensive than classes on site, but still cheaper than classes from a North American school, and you can take them from the comfort of your own home.

VerbalPlanet.com is an interesting site for online language learning that offers dozens of languages and a choice of teachers. You can see the price and reviews for each teacher. Although I have not used this site myself, it looks very well organized and easy to use.

So, what language would you like to learn? Have you ever studied a language abroad?

Au revoir! Hasta luego! Arrivederci! Auf Wiedersehen! さようなら

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