An American Abroad

Learn the Language!

How to quickly get up to speed on any language

By Kayla Stewart March 6, 2015


Before my months-long trip to Italy, I underestimated the need to speak the native language. Tricked by movies like Eat, Pray, Love and When in Rome, I naively assumed that a handsome translator would be at my beck and call. Or, at least, there would be translations everywhere.

’Twas not the case in Torino, a smaller city in Italy that doesn’t get as much tourist traffic as Rome or Florence. And quite honestly, I’m glad. The arrogance that I came with—my expectation that most adults would speak the mother tongue—went out of the window, and, yes, I felt isolated, frustrated, and embarrassed when I had more advanced questions than "Mi scusi, dov'è il bagno?" But I ended up learning a lot of Italian.

I decided to learn the language not only because I felt that, in some sense, I owed it to the Italian people, but because I didn’t want to accidentally end up on a train to another country. (Hey, it happens.) You can do it too, I promise. Here’s how to get started:

6. Apps   

Don’t just use that smartphone for games. In the world where there’s an app for everything, there’s no excuse. Apps like Duolingo give users quick, easy lessons to help get a new language and its rules on the brain. It isn’t an advanced learning app nor will it get you speaking fluently, but it’s a great start when trying to pick up the knowledge in short bits.   

5. Books

Stock up on grammar books, phrase books, even—especially?—children’s books to learn how to read the language. This of course comes in handy when you’re reading signs and instructions abroad, but it also teaches you sentence structure.

4. Rosetta Stone

Some linguists hate it, and some love it. There’s no substitute for direct immersion, but Rosetta Stone certainly gets extremely close. The software program, which used to be a luxury expense, can now be found at a much lower price. It focuses on learning through photos, repetition, and speaking. Such stimulation helps users to learn the language in about as realistic a way as possible via computer. And it now comes with an app.  


3. Watching films    

Netflix wasn’t only made to binge watch House of Cards. Accents are everything, and foreign films help immensely when it comes to getting it right. Find a movie that looks interesting, put on your English subtitles, and really listen to the actors talk.

2. Taking a class

This, of course, is an obvious choice. Learning the rules in the right way from the beginning is immensely helpful, not to mention a great jumping-off point before furthering your education online. Language classes aren’t only available on college campuses, either—Leisure Learning is just one of many programs that offer beginning to advanced courses in languages ranging from French to Japanese.  

1. Speaking

Okay, this is the most obvious way to learn of all. But it should be said: don’t be shy. Speak. Whether it’s a teacher or a friend who knows the language, find someone you can talk to, so you can get used to saying words properly and speaking at a reasonable pace. Do not let making mistakes hold you back. Just keep talking.


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