When to visit a country whose official language is one that you're studying

Hello all,

I’m wondering if any of you can offer me some advice on this subject. I’m currently studying German and French and would like to visit the two countries, even if for a week or two each. I’ve heard and read before that being at an intermediate level (note: I’m currently a beginner with both of them) is the time when it’s best to visit the country. Otherwise, it’s a waste of time. However, I’ve also read of people visiting the country and writing down all the new words they see, interacting with the people (or at least listening in), and benefitting from the immersion experience. I’m also studying Mandarin, but I plan on visiting China next year when I feel more comfortable with it, for it is quite different from English.

With Arabic, I plan on going to Damascus, Syria this summer then Alexandria, Egypt for fall and spring semester to increase my mastery of the language, but this is one where I feel totally comfortable speaking it only without English (my native language). It seems to fit that whole “wait until you’re intermediate” paradigm.

Any ideas on how to benefit the most? I just can’t seem to wait to visit a country that speaks that language that I’ve been studying almost in a bubble, i.e., it’s not in the street signs or spoken by restauarants, etc.

You are an ambitious learner.

It is always stimulating to visit the country where they speak the language you are learning. I find that if you are not at least an intermediate you end up a little frustrated but it can provide motivation. I think that learning any language is a major undertaking and trying to do so many at once may be a little tough. I would focus on German and France for 6 months, and then go for a visit. If you feel that you are ready for it then go to China, However, China is difficult and I imagine Arabic is too. Maybe you should focus on one of the two. Visit both places if you can afford the time and money but focus on one of these important but difficult languages would be my advice.

Thanks for your advice!

I’ve studied Mandarin for four years formally and am keeping up with it as best as I can, but you know how foreign langauges are taught in schools. For example, when I hear new words, sentences structures, or dialogues, it doesn’t sounds strange to me at all, but I still feel like a beginner, who is slowly progressing.

With French and German, I have only started studying them about four months ago, and this has been completely through online, books, programs, speaking circles held weekly at the university (such as coffee hours), etc. I feel like I’m slowly getting to the level where I can hear news or speeches (and I listen to tons of music, speeches, and watch movies in these two languages) and actually differentiate between words. I try to write down new vocabulary whenever I do this and save it.

With Arabic, I have been speaking it for all of my life, though I’m now at the level where I’m trying to focus on novels, poetry, classics, research papaers, etc. With this, I also feel quite comfortable with conversational situations, media language, etc.

Surprisingly, I don’t mix up too much between the languages other than occasionaly with French and German. I personally like to study all of these at once (to different degrees, of course, and with prioritization) because it spices up my day of language learning. I might study Chinese (audio in my iPod) while on the way to the university in the morning and come back on the bus with some German in my headphones.

I think you’re right that six months will be a good time to wait to travel to France and Germany for some motivation and interaction. My trip is planned for 9 months from now, whereas my trip to China is planned to be approximately 14 months from now. I hope that I can improve to an intermediate level by then. I’m using many different resources (including LingQ, among others) in order to do that.

Going back and forth from Russian to English and back here, I made a few typos in my post (China instead of Chinese etc.) That is what you get for typing too fast.

Anyway, if you have heard a variety of languages growing up, and have the energy, go for it. Your energy and drive are your greatest assets. Language learning is more a matter of attitude than aptitude.