Hey you, get out of town! No, seriously get out of town! Getting lost is one of the best ways to learn a language, not to mention acquire some form of temporary trauma. One summer day, I had been searching for a Bonsai Museum on foot. I must have walked an extra 10 miles in circles because of how lost I was. But, it was worth it!
While I was lost I spent the majority of my time asking for directions, doing self-introductions with native speakers and pointing out familiar vocabulary I had seen in textbooks on roads, street signs, and advertisements. When I arrived at the museum I was pouring sweat due to the summer humidity, but I had a lot of stories to tell to the women at the reception counter. The stories also made a great Facebook status, if you’re into that kind of thing…
Think you can handle a day without google maps? Let’s talk about getting lost, and how it can help you in your journey.
Why We Need To Get Lost In Our Language Learning Journey
Sometimes in language learning, a drastic change in the environment is just what we need. And what better way to do that than throwing yourself at the mercy of complete strangers and unknown territory?
Comfort in language learning means stagnancy. When we are comfortable in any aspect of language learning we stop progressing. Getting lost is a sure fire way to disrupt those comfort levels and throw you out of your comfort zone. There are so many unknown variables when you’re not aware of your physical location, especially if you happen to be in a country that isn’t your own.
A New Country = A New Place = Always Lost
Side Note: Before we really get into this article, “Getting Lost” is designed to work best when you’re in your target language country.
Whenever you travel to a place you’ve never explored before you’re by default already lost. Don’t mind those people with big floppy printed maps who look like they know where they’re going. If they did know their destination’s location they wouldn’t be using the map in the first place. So first things first, is to realize that you’re always lost in a new country, therefore being afraid of getting lost is just extra effort added to the equation.
When you make that big move to your dream country, what’s the point of asking “where”? I mean sure if you’ve lived there for a while and will understand the answer to the question “where”, sure go ahead and ask that question. But, if you’re a newcomer then “where?” will just be translated into a kind of white noise. You’re always lost in a new place, so just embrace that until everything isn’t so ‘new’ anymore.
Get Lost! A Sure-Fire Way To Learn A Language
Getting lost couldn’t be any simpler. Depending on what country you’re in all you need to do is cut a few corners to end up on the moon. But don’t worry ending up on the moon is good, aliens are on the moon.
For those reading who are living in their target language’s country presently, I’m sure there are a handful of places you’ve skimped over for unknown reasons. I’m here to let you know that there is no need to not go somewhere just because you feel uncomfortable with the location. I mean sure, there are areas that are notably dangerous, sketchy and overall just bad, but they’re needles in haystacks. Just take the dive, and walk around until it feels like you’re floating…oh and don’t forget your corners. Here are a few helpful hints that can further push you in the unknown of your dream country:
- Leave your phone at home.
- Bring a pocket dictionary.
- Drink water during your ventures.
- Walk. Don’t bike, catch a taxi or train… simply walk.
- Corners and alleys are your friends.
- If you find a strange path nobody is walking down, take it.
- Old people make for better conversations when it comes to talking to strangers.
- Bring an umbrella.
- Pack a change of clothes.
- Be in a good mood.
What To Do While You’re Lost In Your Target Language
Everything. This is your chance to connect to the raw, untapped language learning energy you’ve been building up. In one of our earlier articles titled “Survival Tactics,” we talk about serious survival methods, but in this article, it’s more of survival in reverse. ‘Reverse’ meaning that you’re thriving instead of struggling while in survival mode. While you’re lost you can do these things to improve your language skills:
- In your pocket dictionary look up words you see on signs and billboards
- Blabber your way through the whole journey.
- When the time comes (and it will), ask for directions.
- Exchange cultural information about your country with natives.
- Talk to shopkeepers (some are friendly others not so much, but still go for it!)
- If you see a food vendor on the street, strike up a conversation and fuel up!
Getting Unlost – Finding Your Way Back To Your Target Language
Nobody wants to stay lost forever, that’s not the goal here. In order to prevent this, I recommend you that you already have a destination in mind before stepping foot out the door. Okay, back up I know I just spoke about not having a destination and just going for it, but you want to END up somewhere eventually. For example, when I was heading to the museum it wasn’t my intent to get lost, yet it happened and I still got to the museum anyway. So try to end up lost on accident, it’ll feel more natural that way and getting unlost won’t be so much of a big deal.
Don’t Forget This One Thing – Always Have Fun In Your Language Learning Journey
Seriously, have fun! Getting lost can be terrifying, but as language learners, we eventually have to learn how to adapt to our environment.
Have you ever lost your mom in the food store, and that feeling of panic, fear, and grief all set in at once? That’s how it SHOULD NOT feel in this instance. Rather, imagine that you’re lost in the food store, but everything is free so you’re happy even if you don’t find your mom. Okay, I know that sounded kind of dark – but it’s better than being lost with no resources and having no clue whatsoever.
Think of getting lost as preparation for the day when your language abilities evolve to the point that they’re able to integrate into the cultural community.