(This post was updated in July 2018)
Visiting the places where the language you learn is spoken, is definitely one of the best things you can do as a language learner.
Of course the duration of your stay matters, since the more time you spend, the more exposure you get.
However, whether you visit for three days or a month, it’s always a great idea to keep up with your learning when you visit the country.
But how? What’s the best way to do it?
There’s the obvious way of jumping head first and grasping everything you can.
However, no two people learn the same way and full immersion is no different.
As soon as you arrive, you find that language, culture and vacation are all connected; you are both learning the language and visiting the country.
You hear the language everywhere to the point you start feeling your brain absorbs the language like a sponge (or you might feel like a nosy person, but really, who cares?
You‘ve just learned a new expression by the conversation you overheard so, that's great.
You also experience the culture; the gestures, the eye contact, how people talk formally and informally, the habits, the special occasions and so much more.
And you are on vacation!
Relax, enjoy and let your mind wander as you take in both familiar and new words, sounds and expressions.
It's easy to assume you will learn faster when visiting the country.
Not necessarily, though.
Being in the heart of things might be too overwhelming.
You might feel you need to learn everything and anything possible or you ultimately don’t know where to start and this leaves you disappointed.
Or you might focus too much on your accent or your grammar mistakes which will probably stop you from practicing speaking.
The truth is that yes, you need to take advantage of all this free exposure to Greek.
But at the same time, you need to narrow down the things you can do for your learning, while enjoying it and of course enjoying your vacation.
No need to work hard during your well deserved break.
Rather, you can start working efficiently.
So what do successful Greek learners have in common?
(hint: it’s not about memorizing endless lists of vocabulary or grammar exceptions).
Let's start with number...
1. Ένα. Set your goals
I’m sure you have planned your stay, more or less.
You might have planned everything or you have simply decided to take the next boat to a neighbour island and literally sail to the unknown (which is truly a great story to tell back home).
This is the right time to decide what your goals are. It doesn't have to be time consuming though.
Going around the city or town and seeing friends?
Then, asking questions and catching up with your friends’ everyday lives will be your focus. (Also the crisis, if you are interested in politics).
Going to the islands?
Then travelling, asking for directions, ordering food, using vocabulary about the weather and the means of transport is your best bet.
Going to the ancient monuments?
Then reading information on maps, leaflets and museums is probably what you will be mostly focusing on.
A combination of all the above?
Pick what is feasible and more fun to you and go with it.
This is not the kind of planning that will take you a very long time to complete. It’s more about setting some realistic goals about your learning while you visit.
2. Δύο. Say it in Greek
While in Greece, you do need to take advantage of the real, authentic language.
I’ve heard too many times from Greek learners that Greeks will speak in English to them and that everyone knows English.
It's true that English was always useful in tourism but in the last few years it has gained a tremendous popularity among Greeks who want to immigrate to other countries, so yes, Greeks also want to practice their English with you.
I won’t say don’t let them but I will say set some rules. “Let’s speak 50%-50%” for example.
By doing so, you are friendly but also true to your learning goals and needs.
Even if you have a Greek club or a Greek teacher or even a Greek best friend back home, visiting Greece is the best opportunity to speak about a variety of things and learn a variety of new words, no matter what your level is.
Reply, chat, pop in some Greek words in your sentence, try the new word, repeat it to yourself, then say it again in a sentence or question.
By hearing the meaning, the pronunciation, the different ways of saying the word, you get to use it in a real communication with the locals.
3. Τρία. Language notebook
Take notes. So simple.
I used this technique when I was learning French in France and it was the best thing I ever did for my learning.
I was writing down everything, from words in lectures to expressions at the local bakery.
So just grab an old fashioned pocket notebook and a pen (because you never know when batteries will fail you) and start writing.
Hand writing is also said to be helping memory, according to some studies.
Write down a word or expression or pronunciation you heard, pause and write it down.
When you are bored waiting for that bus (in Athens it takes forever to arrive!) then take your notebook and revise your notes.
Later that day, check these words in your dictionary and ask your Greek friends for help with pronunciation, if needed.
Added bonus: At the end of your trip you will have a proof of your learning and you will be really proud of yourself.
4. Τέσσερα. Mix with the locals
If you are an avid and experienced traveller, you probably know by now that you truly experience the country when you mix with the locals and avoid the tourist places (which also benefits your wallet).
This is also the best way to experience the language instead of hearing mainly English or other languages from tourist groups around you.
Ask away, get recommendations for places. T
here’s always someone happy to help. A friend of a friend happy to suggest places to visit or stay.
Even if you are an introvert who finds it hard to make friends with everyone, listening to native speakers and experiencing the culture proves to be a great tool for your learning.
(In case you are an extrovert, well, next thing you know is ending up talking politics with your new Greek friend while drinking ρακή !)
In both cases, mixing with the locals opens up a window to how you see Greeks and the Greek language. (and you might also get a treat!)
5. Πέντε. Mindset
This is definitely one of the most interesting and complex issues when it comes to language learning.
Does a positive or negative mindset affect your learning?
Can you identify what your mindset is or even change it?
A very short answer is that yes, you might have all the desire in the world to learn Greek but if it’s the classical Greece you were hoping to find, then maybe you‘ll be disappointed.
Even if you visit the country regularly, or even if you live in Greece, we always carry a set of assumptions about the country and the people.
Taken maybe from local Greeks’ opinions, course books, the news on TV and newspapers.
Be ready to change this image.
Be open to the different culture and this will help you stay open with your learning.
The Italian film director Federico Fellini said: “A different language is a different vision of life” and I can’t find anything that explains mindset better than that.
By observing and accepting the differences and the changes while you are in Greece for the first or the 20th time, you are learning with a positive attitude.
I think this is both efficient and joyful.
Enjoy your stay!
Καλά να περάσετε!
What do you think? What helps you learn when you visit Greece? Share in the comments!