new language

Say hola to a new language in two weeks

The French have a saying that goes ‘L’espirit de l’escalier’. It literally translates as ‘the wit of the staircase’, but is the term used for that scorching comeback you only think of when it’s too late (ie. in the staircase on your way out).

There’s even a fantastic word in Bantu used to describe a dream so amazing that it’s the opposite of a nightmare – Bilita Mpash.

New languages might be tough, but they’re definitely fun. Plus, there’s no faster way to make friends with the locals (or get the correct directions) in a new country than to speak a little of the lingo. If you’ve only got two weeks to go until a trip and everything packed but your new vocab, here are our tips for making the most of it.

Get online

You could be in the middle of the outback – so long as you have a mobile device, an internet connection and plenty of battery power you can start learning a language. There are countless courses and lessons you can try online, and this is the perfect place to start to get your basics. The BBC language courses are particularly good and offer 40 options.

At this stage, you want to start by learning how to introduce yourself, ask for basic directions, and understand simple phrases. Once you have these down, you can build up your vocabulary by pushing yourself to learn at least 15 new words a day. These words are the building blocks of your new language and as most people stick to basic vocab a lot of the time, knowing about 200 common words before you go will drastically increase your comprehension.

Immerse yourself

Stick post-it notes on everything in your house, listen to music and watch movies (with subtitles) every day. Get used to hearing the way your chosen language sounds and don’t give your brain a minute to take a break from absorbing new information. Anyone who has done an immersion language course swears by it – in several languages, no less.

To really get a hold of a new language you need to commit to several hours a day – not just a perfunctory 30 minutes over your evening cup of tea. You’ll be amazed at how much you can learn in a small space of time but you do have to stick to it.


Enlist the help of your cat or dog as an avid listener who doesn’t judge and won’t interrupt you halfway through your speech. You’ll quickly identify a word or two missing from your new vocabulary – be sure to look them up and try again. Holding a basic one-sided conversation about the weather, the quality of pet food you’re offering or why your fur animal shouldn’t have scratched your new rug will help you get used to saying the words out loud and build up your confidence.

Write cheat sheets

Write down your favourite words, your most useful phrases and helpful verbs. A dictionary will be a huge help if you can get your hands on one but it’s also important to have your go-to cheats on hand.

Remember you don’t need to know how to hold a conversation on intense politics – in fact that might not be a wise idea in a new country anyway – so keep it to the basics and know them well. These sheets and your pocket dictionary may be all you will carry with you when you arrive at your destination so write down anything you can anticipate needing for that time.

Learn how to say ‘travel insurance’ and pack some peace of mind by checking out Virgin Travel Insurance. Hopefully it’s not a term you’ll have to use but just like learning how to say “I think I’m very lost, can you help me?”, it might come in handy right when you need it.

What’s your tip for picking up a new language at record speed?

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