The dark truth is this: your vacation is probably not the best way to get language practice. Usually.

If you travel alone to rural areas of South America, you will probably get the opportunity to speak a lot. If you go with friends to Spain, you’ll be speaking English with your group and most locals you meet will speak English with you as well. What can you do about it?

  • Act like you can’t speak any English. In a recent trip to Spain, in one restaurant every Spanish thing I said to a waitress got a response in English. Sometimes you just have to stick to your guns, even if the conversation is lopsided.
  • Ask unnecessary questions. Most of the time I avoid conversations in stores etc but it’s a great opportunity to try out one of those unnatural exchanges from the text books! Think “embarrassing dad” mode.
  • Download a dictionary onto your phone so you can check words quickly and without using data. (I use Linguee)
  • Look for the least touristy places. You will be less likely to end up in a language stand-off with a 20-something waitress who studied English for 9 years.
  • Read all the plaques. You might discover something interesting.
  • Relish any small success – even if it’s just remembering how to say your room number.
  • Finally buy a book or a magazine at the airport and read it on the plane while you’re still thinking “I am basically Spanish now”

¡Buen viaje!