Learning a Language Part 1/3: How to Pick A Language

Welcome to the first installment of a new summer series: Learning a New Language from our guest author, David Anthony.  David is a senior at North Carolina Central University, a novice computer programmer, rock-climber, and huge language nerd.  This series will explore the how-tos of learning a new language on your own, no college courses required.  The first of three articles will focus on choosing the right language for you.  Look out for new installments on the last Sunday of every month. Enjoy!

PART 1:

Want to know what you can do right now that will make you richer, smarter, and sexier? Fluently speaking a foreign language! I know a lot of millennials and travelers dream of being able to order in a Mexican restaurant in perfect Spanish, or debate Descartes in flawless French. While I can’t promise those results, this guide should help you get started on the path to fluency much faster than traditional methods. Nothing I’m mentioning is voodoo or snake oil, but it’s not obvious to most people when they’re trying to learn a foreign language. It sure wasn’t to me when I first started learning.

My name’s David, and I’ve been studying foreign languages for close to 9 years now. I’ve taken language classes in high school, as well as studying on my own using various methods. As I’m sitting here writing this, I’m also on my way to India with the Critical Language Scholarship. In terms of languages I know in descending order: English is my native language; I’m pretty comfortable in Swedish and Norwegian, conversational in German, and I used to be conversational in Russian and Serbian, although those have atrophied quite a bit. I’ve also casually studied at least a dozen others, including Urdu, Japanese, and Egyptian Arabic. Perhaps not an impressive list from a polyglot standpoint, but enough that I feel qualified to write up this 101 style how to guide.

So, I think the first question that needs to be answered is “Which language should I learn?” The answer: whichever one you are passionate about. Don’t get swept up in whatever “sounds beautiful” or will be most useful. The most useful language is the one you know well. Say you want to learn a language so you can be more competitive for a job in business. Chinese, Hindi, and German are all obvious ones that come to mind. But what if none of those interest you? What if you’re really interested in learning about Cambodian culture, and would rather study Khmer instead? That’s totally okay. If you’re truly passionate about it, you’ll make quick strides and will develop fluency much more quickly. Fluent Khmer is better than phrasebook Chinese on your resume. The same rule applies if you’re just learning for personal reasons. When you learn a language, you’re really learning a culture. Languages don’t exist in a vacuum. Find a specific, concrete reason to learn a language. Don’t be discouraged if it’s a smaller language. Using the Khmer example from earlier (and I’m betting you probably didn’t even know Khmer was a language), Khmer has 16 million native speakers. Even though it’s a “small” language, there’s absolutely no way you’ll ever run out of people to talk to. If you’re willing to work hard enough, any language is an attainable goal.

Next post, I’ll dig deeper into some resources you can use to get started. In the future, I’ll also start talking about some tactics for learning quickly. Hope you enjoyed the post!

Thanks for reading! Are you multilingual? What made you decide to learn another language? Tell us about it in the comments below! Did you enjoy this post? Share it via Facebook or Twitter. And, as always, follow me here on WordPress for more GREAT content like this!

Spontaneous Beach Trip

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I had a hard week at work the other week. I won’t go into details, but I was feeling very overworked and underappreciated. By Thursday I was a big ball of stress. My husband brought me dinner at work, and somehow we decided to go to the beach that weekend.

We live about 2-2.5 hours from the nearest beach, so it’s easy to do for a weekend. He wanted to go for just the day, but I didn’t think it would be worth it. So Friday evening we booked an Airbnb. Less than 24 hours in advance we booked accommodations for Saturday night. We packed in a flurry, thinking “are we really doing this?”

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Now, I don’t believe in fortune-telling and I firmly believe you make your own destiny. However, that doesn’t mean I don’t enjoy fortune cookies! A couple of weeks before this spontaneous trip, I went with some coworkers to a Chinese restaurant where I got a fortune cookie. My fortune was “there are unexpected adventures in your future.” I loved it. I taped it to the mirror in my bathroom. No, it doesn’t actually predict unexpected adventures, but perhaps it inspired them?

After a flurry of packing and a good night’s sleep, we got up and headed for the coast. This was before summer, so it wasn’t peak season yet and we were going to be among the only tourists around.

We arrived at the address of the Airbnb. We called our host who helped us with parking and brought us up to his apartment. Let me pause right there and say the idea of staying with a stranger makes me uncomfortable. Our previous Airbnb stays have always been whole apartments, and this time we were just renting a room from some guy off the internet. However, our host turned out to be a really nice doctor who showed us our room and pretty much left us alone.

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After dumping our stuff in the little bedroom with adjoining private bathroom, we changed into swimsuits and headed for the beach. It was a quick 10 minute drive, and getting out of the car, smelling that salt air and hearing the crashing of waves, I could already feel the stress of my crazy week fading away. While my husband braved swimming in the cold water in March, I set up my towel on the sand with a novel. After who knows how much long I woke up to my husband asking if I wanted to leave or if he should feed the parking meter. “Mmm I can stay longer” I answered sleepily. He kissed me and left to feed the meter. I tried to go back to my book, but ended up just soaking in the sun.

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That evening our host was at work, so we got some food to-go and ate at the counter in the kitchen of our Airbnb. We had talked about going to some bars, but ended up having a couple of glasses of wine at “home,” relaxing, and enjoying being away from home for the night.

The next morning we went to a cute bagel shop across the street from our Airbnb. It was predictably packed, as it was Sunday morning. The bagels were to die for! That’s why you should always try the local shops and restaurants when you travel–you might find the best bagel of your life!

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After our bagels, we drove about half an hour away to the aquarium. It’s a great aquarium, and we had a lot of fun looking at the fish, and feeling like kids again. Our stomachs started rumbling again, but we didn’t want to pay for overpriced food at the aquarium so we just started driving back home with the plan to stop when we saw something that looked good. A little burrito place caught our attention. We stopped and went in. It was probably 2-3pm, but we still had to wait for a table. The restaurant had kind of a Dia de los Muertos skulls theme. We were finally seated and found out we got unlimited access to their salsa bar. They had about a dozen different salsas and I think we tried most of them. Then came our meals. Oh man. To die for. The service was great, the food was great, the atmosphere was casual and cool, and the prices were low. Always. Eat. Local.

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After stuffing ourselves with burritos, the last thing we wanted to do was drive back home, but alas, our spontaneous beach trip was coming to an end. We dragged our full bellies back to the car, and drove home. Would I take a spontaneous trip again? Hell yeah. But when? Who knows…. 🙂

Have you taken a spontaneous trip? Tell me about it in the comments! Did you enjoy this post? Share via Facebook or Twitter. And, as always, follow me here on WordPress for more GREAT content like this!

Destination: Montréal, QB, Canada

Montréal: A quick look

Language: French, but English is widely spoken
Currency: Canadian Dollar (Exchange rate is close to 1:1 with the US dollar)
Drinking Age: 18*
Public Transportation: Metro and bus
Passport: Yes!
Vaccines: Routine

*In Canada, the drinking age is set by the province. If you’re traveling to Montréal, but visit another province on your trip, please note that the drinking age may be higher.

Before you leave:

  1. Use Airbnb! I am in no way associated with Airbnb, but am simply a very satisfied customer. It’s a great way to stay in the city without paying sky-high hotel prices.
  2. If you’re driving, make sure you arrange to have a parking space. Parking is limited, and not guaranteed.
  3. Learn a few words/phrases of French. Yes, they speak English. Yes, they are nice about speaking English. However, the official language of Quebec is French. A little effort will go a long way; remember, you’re visiting someone else’s home town. If you learn to properly pronounce just a few simple things, the locals will be impressed. My suggestions are “hello,” “please,” “thank you,” “goodbye,” and “excuse me.” If you want to go a little farther, learn simple phrases as well. Duolingo is a good source for learning a language.

Once you get there:

There are many cool places to visit in Montréal!

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The best way to get around is public transportation. Montréal has a well-established metro and bus system and I highly recommend it. Parking in the city will be extremely difficult, and you’ll probably end up paying more and walking more to drive than you would to take the train or bus.

I have not visited everything I’d like to see there, but here are my recommendations…

  1. The Montréal Biosphere.

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    The Biosphere is a huge sphere with an environmental science museum inside. Great for kids, but fun for adults too; my husband and I had a blast and we’re in our 20s.

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    The biosphere was originally part of the 1967 World’s Fair, Expo 67. It is located on Saint Helen’s Island in the Saint Lawrence River. After being closed for 14 years (from 1976-1990) due to a structural fire, the Biosphere was purchased by Environment Canada, who turned it into the environmental science museum it is today.

  2. Mount Royal

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    Montréal is named for Mount Royal (French, mont Royal), which is basically a big hill. It’s a park now, with amazing views of the city! The public bus system takes you most of the way up the hill (mountain?) and into the park. When I visited, we took a picnic lunch, which we ate on a park bench, surrounded by tourists taking photos of squirrels. Then we trekked the rest of the way up the hill to the peak. You step out onto a huge marble stage with a guardrail and the best views of the Montréal skyline.

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    You can also visit several small museums dedicated to the history and environment of the hill (mountain?).

  3. The Olympic stadium

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    We didn’t actually go inside, but the metro stop next to the stadium has some memorabilia from the 1976 Olympics (we happened to be there for the 40th anniversary) and there’s a display outside the tower with facts about the Olympics.

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    The tower is very impressive (it’s the tallest leaning tower in the world) and just seeing it from the outside was good enough for us.

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  4. Old Port/Old Montréal

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    Old Port (Vieux-Port in French) is a neat area to walk around. I’m partial to old towns, and Old Port doesn’t disappoint; it has the old buildings, the cobblestone streets, and the historical sites (like the Notre Dame Basilica). Walking and cycling along the river is a popular activity, especially when the weather’s nice.

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    There’s also a stretch of your typical touristy shops and restaurants in the area, so it’s a good place to pick up some Canadian themed souvenirs. (If you’d like to get Canadian maple syrup though, I would recommend just stopping by the grocery store; it’s significantly cheaper, and they still have the cute little maple-leaf-shaped bottles.)

  5. Notre Dame Basilica

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    Well, it’s a beautiful catholic church. While it is impressive, it is very much like other Catholic churches of that time period (1820’s).

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    I don’t regret going, it wasn’t expensive, but it wasn’t anything to write home about. There’s also guided tours if that’s you’re thing. It’s a quick attraction that’s worth checking off the list if you have time, as it’s right in old town. While you do not have to dress up, I would recommend against wearing sleeveless tops, short shorts, or short skirts.

  6. Jardins Gamelin

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    This is a very cool outdoor bar space. We saw all sorts of folks, young and old, enjoying being outdoors, listening to great music, dancing, and having a good time. Families, 20-somethings, and older generations came together to enjoy Saturday night. It’s also near a string of other bars, which were generally populated by the college crowd.

  7. Quartierdes speciales

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    Quartierdes speciales is a hip downtown area that’s popular with the college crowd. There’s an active nightlife, with pretty much any kind of bar you can imagine. You can find everything from a traditional Irish pub to a vegan organic bar.

  8. Get maple syrup ice cream.

    It’s delicious. It’s Canadian. You’re a tourist. Best place to go is Le Glacier Bilboquet.

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    There are several locations around the city, and the one we went to was a fun little shop near the Farmers Market. They also have plenty of other flavors if you’re not into maple syrup.

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  9. Les Délices de l’Érable is a maple themed shop that has a ton of different maple syrup flavored/scented items, but their biggest seller is maple syrup flavored gelato! It’s located near Old Port, so it’s an easy break from walking around all day. It can be a bit expensive, but it’s definitely worth a look!

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  10. The science museum

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    The museum was closed when I was there due to a worker’s strike, but it looks legit. It’s also located in Old Port, so it can be a break from the weather when you’re walking around.

Montréal is a cool city, and I would highly recommend it.

What city would you like to see a travel guide for next? Let me know in the comments below. Did you enjoy this post? Share via Facebook or Twitter and follow me for more great content like this!

Sources:

Image, Mount Royal https://pt.wikipedia.org/wiki/Monte_Royal

Image, Biosphere https://www.mtlblog.com/lifestyle/everything-you-never-knew-about-montreals-biosphere

All other images are my own.

6 Tips for Packing Light

A couple of weeks ago, I traveled with my 15-year-old cousin (who lives near me) to New England for a week to see her aunt, my cousin. I’ve traveled a lot, and lately I’ve been getting into backpacker style traveling. On my last trip to Europe I stayed in hostels and didn’t check any luggage. It mostly started because I’m cheap, but it’s become more of a hobby now (and I’m still cheap). I’ll share some tips for packing light so that you can also stop paying to check a bag!

“You don’t have a suitcase?” My younger cousin’s mom asked me when we met in the airport parking garage a couple of hours before our flight.

“Nope” I replied, and gestured towards my backpack. We trekked into the airport, my cousin, her mom, my husband, and I, chatting about school and work and traveling.

Later, inside the airport, when she was paying $25 extra for my cousin’s checked bag her mom turned to me and asked again “You aren’t checking anything?”

I shook my head and my husband chimed in “Once you’ve lost a bag, you’ll never go back” I’ve actually never had an airline lose my luggage, but I’m super cheap. Paying $25 on top of my $300 ticket AND risk them losing my belongings? No thanks.

We arrived in NY and when my older cousin came to pick us up, the first thing she said to me was “that’s it?” upon seeing my backpack. “I’ll tell you how, just keep an eye on my blog” I joked.

Tip #1: Ask yourself, “Do I really need this?” Despite impressing my cousins, my husband still accused me of taking too many toiletries. “Do you need all of this?” He asked as he watched me pack. It’s a good question to ask yourself. If you don’t normally need something, it’s probably best to leave it at home unless you know for a fact you will need it on your trip. I’ll admit, in a normal week I don’t need workout clothes (oops) but my cousin is pretty active, so I knew visiting her meant we’d hit the gym at least once. Just be adaptable and pack for your trip and yourself.

Tip #2: Wear your bulkiest clothes to the airport so you don’t have to pack them. Even if it’s going to be warmer and you end up carrying your coat/jacket, it’s a great way to save space in your luggage. Carrying a coat or jacket doesn’t count as a carry-on or personal item. You can also put stuff in the pockets if you’re really desperate, but I would recommend saving this for the return trip, since you’ll likely have souvenirs of some kind. Just be careful not to put anything “suspicious” looking in your pockets.

To the airport I wore:

A short sleeved top
A pair of leggings
A pair of boots
A warm jacket

Tip #3: Plan to wash and/or re-wear your clothes. I haven’t checked luggage in 3 years. You can pack everything you need in carry-on size luggage no matter how long your trip is. I’ve found that I need a certain amount of stuff, no matter how long I’m going away. You always need pants, shirts, etc, but the trick is to re-wear and/or wash your clothes. If you’ll be away for more than a week you’ll probably need to wash clothes, but if you were at home, wouldn’t you be doing laundry anyway?

Tip #4: Save and use small containers for traveling with small items. I’ve saved mint tins and plastic razor boxes for a while and they’re awesome for organizing bobby pins, jewelry, cotton swabs, and other small accessories.

Tip #5: Utilize packing cubes. Organizing your belongings into packing cubes is a great way to save space. It seems counterintuitive to add items to save space, but cubes (or honestly, any small zip-up cloth bags you have) help you to smoosh items down. Bonus: they also help you to organize into outfits or type of clothing.

Tip #6: What you should pack.

What I packed in a backpack for a one week trip:

2 dresses
2 pairs of jeans
1 pair of leggings
2 cardigan sweaters
2 pairs of PJ pants
2 comfy T’s for sleeping
2 tank tops
3 short sleeve shirts
1 long sleeve shirt
1 pair of tennis shoes
1 set of workout clothes (shirt, shorts, sports bra)
Socks and underwear for a week
A laptop
A magazine
An (empty) water bottle
I also packed travel sized toiletries. You’d be surprised what you can find in under 3 oz bottles. I have everything from deodorant to hairspray to baby powder to body spray.

Places to find small bottles of liquids:

Target/Walmart
5 Below
Bath and Body Works
Big Lots

If you can’t find your favorite shampoo or lotion in small bottles, you can purchase empty airplane sized bottles pretty much anywhere (Target, Walmart, Big Lots, REI, Dick’s, etc.) just check the travel section. You can then fill them at home with your favorite product. But lemme warn you, it’s messy and not the easiest task to accomplish. I would recommend just purchasing products that are already in travel sized bottles, but I’m not your dad.

If you follow this guide, you too can stop paying to check a bag when you travel!

Did you like this post? Share via Facebook or Twitter. Subscribe to my blog and keep an eye out for more packing tips. Do you have any packing tips? Share them in the comments below!

Travel Mistakes I Made (So You Don’t Have to)

So you just booked your first International flight and you’re thinking “what now?” Or maybe you’re a veteran traveler who is looking to save some money and travel backpacker style. Below are 5 mistakes I’ve made, and tips for traveling on a budget.

  1. Paying for a hotel
    • Hostels are not scary. If you’ve lived in a dorm, you can handle a hostel. The  biggest downside is sharing your space. The biggest upside is sharing your space! You’ll meet other travelers who are potential new friends.
    • Airbnb is your friend. You can rent anything from a whole apartment to a couch. You’ll have an opportunity to stay in areas you probably couldn’t afford a hotel in, and chances are it’s nicer. The hosts usually put more effort into making you feel at home than a hotel would. I’ve stayed in whole apartments and private rooms in someone else’s home. I’ll admit, staying with a stranger sounds pretty sketchy, but it’s not as weird as it sounds.
    • Couchsurfing. It’s not a service I’ve tried yet, but I know other people have and have had success with it. If you’re nervous about staying with strangers, you aren’t alone but the site verifies both surfers and those sharing their couch. The best part? It’s FREE. You aren’t allowed to offer or accept payment.
  2. Paying $1000s for a flight to Europe
    • I flew to Poland in 2014 and I booked a flight through regular* means. It cost me $1200 round trip and included a 12 hour overnight layover. In October of 2015 I flew to Denmark. I booked through Wow air and paid about $600 round trip (yeah, that’s HALF price). I booked both flights about the same distance out (6-8 weeks). One downside to Wow is that they aren’t in many airports in the US yet (I flew out of DC), but they’re all over Europe. Also, flights within Europe are super cheap ($99-200) so getting across the ocean is the most expensive part.
    • Another airline offering cheap transatlantic flights is Norwegian Airlines.  With Norwegian** you can fly from JFK to Oslo for about $400 (booking 5 weeks out). (Look for future posts specifically about flights!)
  3. Checking a bag
    • Checking a bag usually costs extra. You do not need that much stuff. I traveled with someone on study abroad who brought framed photographs for a 4 week trip. Don’t take stuff you don’t need. I haven’t checked a bag in years and I don’t miss it. (Keep an eye on my blog for a full post with packing hacks!)
  4. Not having appropriate converters/surge protectors
    • When I went to the UK in 2006 (pre-smart phones) I didn’t have appropriate converter/surge protectors. This meant my hair dryer just didn’t work! Make sure you look into everything you’ll need for your specific destination.
  5. Buying an international phone plan
    • Find free WiFi and use Skype, WhatsApp, or Facebook messenger. You aren’t traveling abroad to spend all your time talking to folks back home.
    • If you really NEED a phone for some reason, buy a cheap burner phone when you arrive.

There are so many things you can do to make your travel experiences cheaper and more efficient.  If you liked these tips, keep an eye on my blog for more in-depth posts regarding flights, packing, and more.

Have any good travel hacks of your own?  Share them in the comments below.  If you liked this post, share it on Facebook and follow my blog for more content like this.

*I flew JetBlue, then Lot airlines on my trip to Poland.  I had good experiences with both airlines, however, there are cheaper flights out there!

**I have flown Norwegian within Europe, but have not traveled from the US to Europe on a Norwegian flight.