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Language study in preparation for future travel

I have been searching for the past 5 years for an online language course to become semi fluent in french for traveling in France. Studying on my own using a variety of offline courses makes me a proficient reader of french but the ability to converse not so much. I even asked on this forum for any recommendations in France w/o a reply. Due to the expanded use of Zoom-I found Lingoda, an online language school with live teachers from around the world. They offer 4 languages -spanish, french, german and english at incredible reasonable prices. Such a great way to spend this pause in my travel plans!

Posted by
306 posts

I think you will find that unless you are totally fluent, most people will want to speak English with you when you travel.

Depends where you are. In our experience in smaller towns in Italy and France, the staff at the hotel and TI may speak English but in many stores and restaurants it was the local language or nothing.

Posted by
18923 posts

There are plenty of people who aren't really comfortable speaking English, though they may in fact be quite competent--more fluent than I've ever been in a foreign language. Even if the other person is a fluent English-speaker, it's till nice to be able to use the local language to some degree, if only to initiate the conversation.

Posted by
4606 posts

I enjoy being able to speak a bit of the language of whatever country we're visiting. And I've usually found that the people to whom I'm speaking seem to appreciate my attempts. (Well, at least they tolerate me, with good humor.) This seemed to be especially true in France, interestingly enough. I was concerned that my ragged French would be seen as desecrating their beloved language, but not at all. (At least, not while I was in their presence. I don't want to know what they said about me after we left.)

chs11, I share your frustration with lack of conversation practice. We're planning to go to Italy next year, and I'm trying to get ready for that. We have books, tapes (well, CDs,) and apps, but no actual interactive conversation practice. I had a PM from another Forum poster earlier this year (when we all still thought we were going to Italy) about a service that links language learners with speakers of the target language who are themselves trying to learn English. Trade-offs ensue. I need to look that up again.

Posted by
707 posts

Thank you for sharing your tip. I’m glad you have been able to find a way to improve your French on line. Another on-line website for foreign language learning is iTalki.com, which sounds similar to what you have described. I have not used it yet, so can’t give a personal review.

You never know when you may be able to use your language skills. We spent a delightful evening in Sicily at a family style dinner with 4 families at our table: 2 French families, one English family and one American. We spoke a combination of French and English all evening and had a wonderful time.

I have found speaking French to be very helpful with travel in France and am happy to switch to whichever language, French or English, which is most pragmatic for communication. My French is decent, but certainly not fluent.

Posted by
3465 posts

I have had very good luck with Rosetta Stone. They have a current offer of $199 for a lifetime subscription to their online and offline programs for all languages. This is a very good deal.

I bought their German, Italian, and French, individually back when they were much more expensive and much less online oriented. Some of the initial lessons are very kindergarten styled, "Where is the cat? There is the cat!" "Who has the bicycle? The girl has the bicycle." type, but I was surprised by how much I was able to understand and actually talk to the people there about beyond cats and bicycles without misunderstanding. No, I was not fluent enough to enter a political debate, but I was able to function handling all daily tasks without needing English.

One of the things that really helped in Rosetta stone is you repeated your phrases into a microphone and the computer graded how close you sounded to correct. This is what I believe helped more than just some program where you repeat things without any checks on pronunciation. They also had an option where you could talk with a live person fluent in that language in the more advanced levels.

Posted by
685 posts

I've used Pimsleur for French which is completely done by audio - hearing and speaking. In fact they discourage reading. I had to do some reading because it was occasionally hard to distinguish what I was hearing.

While I didn't become fluent, I grew more comfortable using what I knew - greetings, asking for things, basic courtesy. As others have said, making an attempt goes a long way to a successful interaction. Our last trip to France I had no service issues.

Was starting to redo the course this year before heading to Switzerland when covid wrecked our travel plans. Now I have over a year to do it. Might try Lingoda when I'm further along so my accent and pronunciation can be corrected.

Posted by
48 posts

I've used Coffee Break French from RadioLingua on and off for a few years now and I'm able to get by with a few rudimentary conversations in French (they also offer most other languages, btw). Their podcast program is free and it works on computers, Android and iPhone (with app). They have a reasonably priced ($100) upgrade fee if you want more questions at the end of each session or pdfs & audio downloads. I love it and have found it most helpful, as the audio helps me with accurate pronunciation; I'm an audio learner first. I've also tried Duolingua but for me, Coffee Break French rocks!

Posted by
4606 posts

Conversationexchange.com. That's the program that on of the Forum folks told me about. She found it very useful. She and her partner had sessions of about 1 1/2 hours each, pretty much divided between speaking English and speaking Italian. Lots of other languages available, and different platforms: meeting in person, meeting via an app, or corresponding as penpals.

In the past we've used Pimsleur with satisfactory results (French, Spanish, Italian, and Dutch.) I've also used Duolingo, Babbel, and RadioLingua's Coffee Break series. Duolingo is probably the least useful of those for me, but I still pull it up from time to time.

Posted by
7605 posts

Good for you chs11. Nothing can replace the face-to-face experience with a live teacher. You’ve accumulated the passive knowledge with all those years studying on your own. Now, your on line experience with a teacher will help start activating it.

Posted by
3777 posts

I agree with Jane that the French people I encountered during my trip last year were happy that I was making an effort to speak their language. I stayed in some towns less frequented by Americans, so I expected that I should learn more words than the very basic travel words, and there were basic conversations where they never switched to English.

I remember when I began studying French in preparation for my trip. I was using Duolingo, and everything sounded like “s-s-s-s” to me during that first week! I was very pleased when I progressed and could hear AND understand the words!

A great use of some Covid quarantine time!

Posted by
4706 posts

I like the Pimsleur tapes, which are travel-related. I agree that they work better with occasional use of a phrasebook to clarify what you're hearing. Working with a live teacher, or native speaker, would be better of course. My public library has Pimsleur so no cost. There are beginning, intermediate, and advanced levels so you can go as far as time and interest allow.

Most of us can have a good experience in Europe with a few phrases and a phrasebook to help now and then. But the more we know of a language the better we'll understand all around us, and the more time we can enjoy outside the popular tourist destinations. It's a matter of balance -- fluency is unnecessary just for travel, but more familiarity means a richer experience.

Posted by
1947 posts

Conversationexchange.com. That's the program that on of the Forum folks told me about.

Adding some color about my experience with ConversationExchange.com....my Italian conversation partner and I have been talking with each other (via Skype) for 4 or 5 years, weekly when I'm not traveling. She is an elementary school teacher, good with the grammar rules and patient with my conversation skills in Italian. We have a good laugh when I make the same mistakes that her students do!

Each week, it's as if we're having coffee together (often, we are): we talk about our families, our travels, her job, current events, and lately, our lives in quarantine. Each week, I learn new vocabulary relative to whatever we chat about.

Beyond our weekly exchanges (half in Italian, half in English) we've become good friends. When I traveled to Sicily a couple of years ago, I met her in person for the first time in Rome (where she grew up) and she took me places I hadn't been.

So, it's not only a great way to practice speaking and listening with a native speaker - if you are as lucky as I have been - you might just make a friend and get to meet them during your travels!

Posted by
768 posts

I liked Pimsleur for both German and Italian because it forces you to speak from the get go. However, I was frustrated initially until I upgraded to the Pimsleur Unlimited versions which include a visual component. I tend to be a visual learner, and with the basic Pimsleur I was looking up dozens of words to put a visual with what I thought I was hearing. I need to recheck, but a few months ago when we were all sent home and it seemed a good time to work on my languages, Pimsleur Unlimited had not caught up with my latest Mac OS upgrade!

Posted by
4606 posts

CWsocial, thanks for chiming in! I didn't want to "out" you without your permission.

Posted by
1947 posts

Much appreciated, Jane, and thanks for the excellent introduction!

Posted by
415 posts

I think you will find that unless you are totally fluent, most people will want to speak English with you when you travel.

We found ourselves in plenty of situations where the person we were trying to communicate with didn’t speak English. And we weren’t traveling off the beaten path.

This is good information. Thanks

There are many good apps that really help to increase your vocabulary and to learn grammar. Personally, I tried all apps from this list, and my favorite two are Tinycards - the best app for learning new words, Duolingo - just a good app to practice the language on an everyday basis.

Posted by
1650 posts

Just an aside. My husband studied Italian very diligently for a year before a trip. When we got there, he could not understand a word that was said to him. He finally figured out that he was speaking Italian so well that he was regarded as fluent. When he slowed down and spoke distinctly in Italian, they answered him in kind (slowly and distinctly). It worked well.