Learn Spanish With Lonely Planet’s Fluent Road

Traveling to Spain or Latin America this summer and want to say more than “Donde esta el bano?” (though, that’s an important one to know)? Lonely Planet has just launched a new online foreign language program, Fluent Road, partnering with Spanish language program Fluenz. The focus is on Spanish for now, but you can choose from dialects from Argentina, “neutral” Latin America, Mexico, or Spain.

Fluent Road is designed for travelers to get the basics before a trip: Spanish for transportation, finding accommodation, ordering food, etc. It’s also a good stepping-stone to a more intensive learning program, and travelers could easily work up to a Fluenz course after completing Fluent Road. What differentiates this from other language learning like Rosetta Stone or Pimsleur is a dissection of the language, showing you how Spanish works and providing explanations, not just rote immersion. Fluenz founder and avid traveler Sonia Gil guides you through obstacles, pronunciation, and practice speaking, writing and reading as a native speaker and “language geek.”

As with all online learning, you can go at your own pace; there are 30 video lessons that can be completed in one to six months. Other useful features include the ability to record yourself to compare pronunciation a native Speaker, and customizable digital flash cards to help practice. You can also contact the teacher and program designer via Twitter.

Take a free 12-hour trial now, subscriptions start from $9 for a month to $30 for six months of access, at www.fluentroad.com.

4 Big Travel Fears And How To Overcome Them

When I meet people who tell me they’ve never flown on an airplane or stepped foot outside their home state, I’m always a little taken aback. In this day and age when travel is so accessible, affordable and commonplace, it’s amazing that there are still so many travel virgins out there.

Now, of course, if these folks didn’t want to travel, or were unable to afford it, that would be understandable. But it’s not lack of desire or means that seems to hold so many people back. Instead, it’s fear – fear of heading out into the great unknown and fear of what will go wrong when they get there. And this fear is crippling enough to stop them from living out their travel dreams.

But the good news for travel newbies is that fears can be overcome. It’s just a matter of understanding what you’re really scared of and learning to manage your concerns. Here are the four biggest fear-related excuses I hear from would-be travelers and tips on how to cope with them.

Going abroad is dangerous

This is probably the most common excuse I hear for not traveling. In fact, the idea that foreign places are dangerous is so pervasive that many people not only stop themselves from traveling, but they try to prevent others from doing so as well. “Are you really planning to go there? Do you think it’s wise? Have you heard the news reports about xyz?” are all refrains I’ve heard over and over. But here’s the thing: life is dangerous and bad things can happen to you anywhere. Despite this, we tend to be afraid of the big, catastrophic events that are actually quite rare (such as our plane crashing, or being kidnapped abroad), but less afraid of more common dangers (such as car accidents) that happen all the time.

So how can you quash this fear? First, do some research. People are often afraid of travel because they don’t know what to really expect. In other words, fear of going abroad is really just fear of the unknown. By learning about your destination, you can start to feel more comfortable with the idea of visiting it. You might even be surprised to learn that your destination is less dangerous than where you live.

Also, remember that news reports tend to focus mostly on negative events, giving you a disproportionate image of how dangerous a country really is. Even in countries that do have genuine problems, not all parts of the country are necessarily dangerous. So just because you saw a story about a shooting or hostage situation in one city doesn’t mean the popular tourist town you’ll be visiting has the same problems. The best way to know for sure is to read detailed travel advisories.

At the end of the day, as long as you use common sense (avoid dark alleys, keep an eye on your belongings and so on) you’ll be just fine.

I won’t be able to communicate my needs

If all you have in your language arsenal is a bit of high school Spanish, then it’s normal to feel anxious about heading to a country where you won’t be able to understand a word of the local lingo. But of all the fears on this list, not being able to communicate is probably the most unfounded. Remember, English is widely spoken around the world, and even those who don’t speak it may have enough of a basic understanding to be able to help you out. And the people you’re most likely to come into contact with – those working in the hospitality industry – will almost certainly know some English.

If you’re still worried, it might be a good idea to prepare yourself by learning a few key words and phrases in the local language. Things like, “where is the toilet?”, “I want chicken/beef/pork,” “I want a single/return ticket” and so on, always come in handy. Of course, “please” and “thank you” also go a long way when you’re seeking help from locals.

Other ways around the language barrier include carrying phrase books, flash cards or picture books bearing images of things you commonly need when traveling. You could also try using gestures or miming to get your point across – it may feel silly but it works.

At the end of the day, there are very few places in the world where you’ll struggle to get by without the local language and if you’re a first-time traveler, chances are these places are not on your itinerary anyway.

What if I get sick or hurt?

Falling ill or being injured abroad are unlikely but not altogether impossible scenarios. So the key to getting around this fear is to be prepared. Firstly, recognize that most health problems people have when traveling are minor – according to this list of the most common travel diseases, diarrhea is the number one ailment. Carrying a small first-aid kit with a few common over-the-counter meds should get you through most situations, but if not, remember there are pharmacies just about everywhere.

Of course, a stomach bug is not what most people are really worried about. It’s the bigger health emergencies that could end in a visit to a scary foreign hospital that gets travelers anxious. But it’s worth noting that many international health systems are better than you think. India, for example, has earned a reputation for its highly experienced heart surgeons, while Thailand is top a destination for medical tourism because of its internationally accredited facilities. Moreover, many developing countries often have large expat communities, so sleek hospitals with highly-trained English speaking staff have sprung up to serve them. If you have a pre-existing condition or are simply anxious, find out where these expat-oriented hospitals are and keep a list of them when traveling.

Lastly, get up to date on all your vaccinations and make sure you have good health insurance that will cover you while you’re abroad.

What if I lose my passport/credit cards/wallet?

Losing your documents is a nuisance, for sure, but it doesn’t have to ruin your whole trip. I once had an ATM swallow my debit card at a bus station in Bolivia … 15 minutes before I was about to board a bus for a distant city. What did I do? Well, I wanted to be sure that no one would figure out a way to retrieve my card from the machine and use it, so I borrowed a cellphone from a kind passerby, called the bank and canceled my card right there on the spot. They promised to express post a new card and a few days later, it was in my hands. Life certainly went on despite the little hiccup, especially because I had other cards to fall back on.

Rogue ATMs aren’t the only threat to your valuables, in fact, pick-pocketing is much more likely. Still, this doesn’t have to be a trip-ending nightmare at all. Just be sure not to carry all your credit cards and cash in your wallet everyday – it’s best to leave most of it in your hotel safe and only tote around what you’ll need for the day. Should the worst happen, call your credit card company right away, cancel the lost card, and they’ll express a new one out to you.

When it comes to passports, again, don’t carry it around unless you have a good reason to. If it does go MIA, you’ll have a much easier time getting a replacement passport if you’ve made copies of it. Keep one copy with you and leave another with a trusted friend back home, just to cover all bases. Your nearest embassy or consulate should be able to help you out from there.

At the end of the day, remember that if the trip really turns out to be as horrible as you imagined, you can always turn around and come home. However, chances are, once you take those first steps and get going, you’ll discover all the wonderful things about life on the road and want to stay. If anything, you’ll probably wonder why you didn’t do it sooner.

What kinds of fears stop you from traveling? Have you found ways of managing them? Let us know below!

[Photo credits: Flickr users cvander; shock264; Fields of View; gwire; swimparallel]

Naughty Bilingual Sign In Tallinn Airport, Estonia

I think I’m going to like Estonia …

This country of 1.3 million people only has a little more than 900,000 people who speak Estonian as their native language yet they’re confident enough with their national tongue to make a bilingual joke right as you enter the airport in the capital city of Tallinn.

Language was politics in the old Soviet republics, and for the long decades during which Estonia was part of the Soviet Union the people had to learn Russian. Many also learned Finnish through TV stations broadcast from Helsinki that were never jammed (more on that story later in the series) while English was something few people ever learned. Now all the younger generation is learning English and it’s easy to get by without knowing any Estonian.

A lack of Estonian, of course, doesn’t lessen the impact of this sign!

Check out this new series: “Exploring Estonia: The Northern Baltics In Wintertime.”

Coming up next: Tallinn’s Medieval Old Town!

[Photo by Sean McLachlan]

Tips For Interacting With Locals When Traveling Abroad

In your home country, you probably have no problem starting up a conversation with other locals. However, when traveling abroad it becomes a bit trickier. You may find yourself losing your temper in stressful situations, or feeling anxious asking simple questions, like for directions or where the nearest bathroom is. To help you successfully interact with locals on your next trip abroad, here are some tips I’ve learned through my travels.

Remember, You Are The Foreigner

Too often, I find tourists getting snippy with locals because they can’t understand what they’re saying. While in Vienna, I was actually with a girl who shouted at our waitress – who spoke German – for bringing the wrong salad. She actually had the nerve to turn to me and ask, “Why can’t she speak English?”

Because we’re in Vienna!

It was mortifying for me, mortifying for the waitress and should have been mortifying for this nasty tourist as well. The correct reaction would have been to either to politely try to explain to the waitress – with hand gestures and pointing to the menu, if necessary – that she brought the wrong entree. Or, just eat the salad. Sometimes, receiving the wrong order in an eatery adds some adventure to the trip, anyway.Be Patient

Of course, if you don’t speak the local language it will take longer to ask questions and get your point across. Instead of acting impatient, take a deep breath and remind yourself how lucky you are to be having an interaction with a local in a foreign country.

Remain Calm

If you have an important question that seems impossible to get answered – like where your bus will be arriving or how to get back to your hotel – don’t panic. This will only cause you to seem like you’re upset or angry, making it less likely for someone to answer you. Instead, think of an alternative way to ask your question. For example, instead of using words to ask for hotel directions, show the person the property’s business card or a map and ask them to draw the route.

Carry A Pen And Paper

Going along with the above tip, one of the smartest things you can do when abroad is to carry around a pen and paper. Drawing pictures and writing out the names of sites and cities can be much more effective than speaking, especially as accents can get in the way. I find it especially helpful when buying train or bus tickets, as I can simply write down the name of my starting city and draw arrows pointing to the names of the other places I need to get to.

Keep In Mind That Cultural Barriers Are Part Of The Experience

This goes along with being patient. It may seem frustrating while you’re speaking and not being understood, but keep in mind that it’s all part of the travel experience. Once you return home, these incidents will probably have turned into comical stories of the trip.

Every Time You Interact Your Cultural Knowledge Grows

Each time you interact with a local in a foreign country you learn something about the culture or place. Because of this you should try not to be nervous about asking questions or starting a conversation regardless of your knowledge of the local language. Even doing something as simple as saying “hello” can help you learn about greetings in the community. On a recent trip through South America, I had a lot of trouble making steady conversation with locals, not because I didn’t know Spanish, but because of my New York accent. However, having locals correct me was a great way for me to perfect my Spanish, and also add some new phrases to my vocabulary.

Don’t Get Offended

Traveling in Ghana I was constantly trying to be polite, using the phrase ma daa si, or “thank you,” as much as possible. However, every time I said it, my courtesy was met with hysterical laughter. At first I felt stupid for not being able to say the phrase correctly, until my homestay mother explained to me that I shouldn’t be offended and that the locals appreciated foreigners trying to speak the local language of Twi. It was also common for Ghanians to shout oburoni, or “foreigner,” at you as a way to start a friendly conversation, call you skinny or fat to describe a fact or propose marriage to you within just getting to know you. You have to get out of your Western mindset and remember that in other countries different responses and behaviors mean different things. Plus if the person you’re interacting with really is being rude to you, it’s no different than if someone at home were doing the same thing. Ignore them and move on.

Research Cultural Taboos

While you shouldn’t get offended, you also don’t want to be offensive. Before leaving for your trip, do some research on the etiquette and customs of the culture you’re visiting. Asking someone personal questions may be acceptable in one culture, but not another. Moreover, take space and touching into consideration. We may shake hands in America to greet someone, but if a woman tried to shake the hand of a monk in Thailand that wouldn’t be good.

Take A Chance

So what if you say a word wrong or the person you’re talking to doesn’t understand you? Most likely, the worst thing that will happen is you end up walking away without your question being answered. On the other hand, what if you get your question answered, learn some new foreign vocabulary and make a new friend? Think of the possibilities of your interaction and take a chance. When in Ghana I traveled with a girl who was terrified of talking to locals even if just to hail a taxi or purchase fruit at the market. One day we were buying fabric to have dresses made and she asked me to order hers for her. Because I wanted her to have the experience of interacting with locals, I refused. In the end, she was really proud of herself for talking to the local woman and wasn’t so terrified to interact from there on out.

Teach Locals About Yourself, Too

While you’re curious about the life of the local you’re talking to, they’re probably curious about you, too. Make sure to share some insight, and if you can, bring photos of family and friends, and items that give them some insight into your culture.

[photos via Jessie on a Journey, Jessie on a Journey, IsaacMao, houdinics, Jessie on a Journey]

Tips for teaching English abroad without speaking the local language

When people hear I spent a summer teaching English in Thailand, they often assume I speak fluent Thai. The truth is, you don’t need to be fluent in the local language to teach English abroad. I’m not saying that it doesn’t help, however, it isn’t necessarily required, as the goal is creating an environment of English-language immersion.

Teaching English is a great experience for all parties involved, and if it’s something you’re interested in doing you shouldn’t let fear of not speaking the local language fluently hold you back. Not only will you get the chance to have an eye-opening experience and get a unique perspective of the culture, you’ll also be helping educate children and getting the chance to share your unique background with them.

To help you get the most of your experience teaching English abroad, here are some tips.

Figure out if you want to get paid or volunteer

When I taught English in Thailand, I volunteered with an affordable organization called International Volunteer Headquarters. Basically I paid a small fee which included having 24/7 support, accommodations, meals, school supplies, and cultural activities like elephant trekking and a weekend homestay experience. A portion of the money also went toward benefiting the local community. You can also search through the SE7EN database for free and low-cost opportunities. The truth is, there are a lot of expensive volunteer programs out there for this kind of project, and while many of them are reputable, there’s really no need to spend a fortune to volunteer, especially if you want a truly local experience.

If you’re looking to teach English long-term and want to get paid for your work, I would recommend signing up for a TEFL, TESOL, or CELTA course, as many schools require that you have a certification. While it’s not impossible to get a job without one, you’ll have less choices in the positions you can apply for. Some excellent resources for these kinds of jobs include Dave’s ESL Cafe, ESL JOBS, and Teaching Opportunities Abroad.Educate yourself before you go

Whether you’re teaching English or just traveling, doing a bit of research on the culture before you go is always important. Knowing the etiquette and customs of a community will help you avoid making embarrassing mistakes or possibly offending somebody. Even little things that you may do on a daily basis at home may not be acceptable in other countries. For example, in Thailand sitting with your legs extended out in the direction of another person, touching someone’s head, handing something to someone with your left hand, and raising your voice are all considered offensive. These are things you’ll definitely want to know before arriving to the school you’ll be teaching at.

Understand cultural differences

While certain teaching tactics may work at a school in your hometown, they may not work where you’re teaching English abroad. Certain methods not only may not work, but can also be detrimental to the child’s learning. For example, in my New York high school it wasn’t really a big deal to have a teacher crack a joke about their students or poke fun at them, and while getting yelled at by an instructor was never fun, it wasn’t something that would scar you for life. However, this is not the case all over the world. For example, in Thailand and many Asian countries where “saving face” is of utmost importance, being called on by a teacher and not knowing the answer to the question can be crippling, especially if the teacher yells or loses their patience. What I would often do was have the children work in small groups and then go around to speak with them individually.

Learn some basic phrases

While you don’t need to be fluent in the local language, it doesn’t hurt to know some basic phrases and be able to make small talk. This is true whether you are teaching English or just traveling. While you’ll want to immerse the students in an environment of only English speaking, it’s inevitable that there will be side conversations in the local language, and sometimes giving them short commands in their language and then translating to English can be helpful.

Be prepared

This is one of the most important rules of all. Always make sure to plan out your lessons the night before, knowing what you want to teach as well as how you will teach it. Practice and time out the lessons so that you can feel confident when teaching and will have enough material to take up the entire class period. It can also be helpful to see what other classes before you have done if that information is available.

Visual aids are helpful

Remember that words aren’t the only resource you have to get your point across. Obviously, if a student doesn’t know what a “slide” or a “pineapple” is in English, showing them a picture and saying the word is a helpful tool. I also found charades and acting words out to be useful and fun, although be mindful that cows don’t say “moo” and cats don’t say “meow” all over the world.

Tailor lessons to the age group

Think about what kind of information will be helpful to the group, and the best ways to impart your knowledge. While coloring in letters and pictures and doing crafts may be a worthwhile lesson activity for young children, this will not help children at the higher levels trying to learn networking and job skills. Moreover, remember that the older the students are, the more grammar, sentence construction, and conversational lessons you will need to be utilizing, as teaching English is not just about vocabulary.

Use online resources

If you’re stuck on how to make a lesson plan effective and fun, utilize the myriad online resources there are for ESL teachers. Some of my personal favorites include California State University, Northridge, Total ESL, and Reach to Teach.

Be confident in your abilities

You were selected for this position because you’re a native English speaker. Be confident in your abilities and know that you have the knowledge and resources necessary to do the job; the trick is simply finding effective ways to disseminate it.