How to be a responsible traveller: Kaya Tip 5: Learn a language while volunteering abroad

It is really important to learn a language while volunteering abroad in the country that you’re going to volunteer or intern in for many reasons and it does make you more of a responsible traveller. By communicating in their language you are respecting the people who live there and engaging with their culture. Make the most of your experience; speak the language and truly feel like a local, not a tourist. Here are some tips on how to do it.

Learning a foreign language in a classroom setting will enable you to grasp the language through learning grammar, vocabulary and learning about the culture. But the only way to truly master the language and to become fluent is to practice the language everyday, to immerse yourself in the culture and lifestyle of your chosen country and truly feel like a local. 

At the start of your language learning process, being able to communicate and being understood is the most important thing. Don’t be put off if you make mistakes. Having the confidence to try anyway is key and your mistakes will slowly start to disappear the more you practice.

Some advice to consider whilst abroad to make the most of your language learning is to listen to the radio, watch TV, read the local paper or go to a meet up language exchange. Through a language exchange you meet local people and speak a mix of your native tongue and second language so everyone is in the same boat, making it a fun experience.

On Kaya’s projects as part of your induction when you arrive, you will be introduced to some words in the local language. For example in Swaziland you will learn basic Siswati and have the opportunity to learn a few new words each week. 

In Latin America, you can learn Spanish on a course and arrange individual or group lessons before you start your project. Courses are available in Costa Rica, Bolivia, Peru and Ecuador. You can also have Spanish lessons alongside your volunteering on certain projects. For those wishing to do an internship in China with Kaya, you can also attend Mandarin lessons!   Even if formal lessons aren’t available local people appreciate it if you try to acquire at least some simple greetings.

On many projects in Latin America you have the opportunity to stay with a homestay family so you are able to practice Spanish everyday in a friendly, welcoming environment and really gain an insight into the local culture. Living with a homestay family will enable you to learn about cultural norms, customs, try authentic cuisine and find out about the best places to visit or local events that you can get involved in.

If you have learnt Castilian Spanish before volunteering in Latin America, be prepared that the local dialect will vary from place to place as each country has its own slang and variations. You may sometimes come across words that you don’t recognise or significant differences in vocabulary. For example, glasses is ‘las gafas’ in Spain but in many Latin American countries they use ‘las lentes’. Accents also will vary from place to place and this may catch you out at first but the more you practice and listen, the easier it will get.

If you throw yourself into speaking the local language during your time abroad, make sure you try to keep up practising and listening to the language once you have returned home. It can be easily forgotten and you never know when you may find yourself travelling again or in a situation where it will come in handy!

Whether you’re volunteering in Asia, Africa or Latin America with Kaya, attempting to learn some of the local language will be greatly appreciated by people you meet. It will certainly enrich your volunteer placement or internship abroad and you will be making an important contribution to travelling the world more responsibly. Click here to book onto a project now or contact us and speak with a placement advisor to find out more information about our projects and how you can learn a new language while volunteering abroad!