Five Quick Tips for Learning a Language 

The best thing I have ever done in life was to learn Spanish. As I travel, I love meeting new people, and throughout my travels, it has been incredibly helpful to have Spanish as another communication channel when English doesn’t suffice. Being able to speak Spanish has opened up my world exponentially and it continually allows me to make connections that otherwise may not be possible.

A few years ago, I had the opportunity to move down to Costa Rica for work. At that time, I didn’t know more than “hola”, “gracias” and a few colors and numbers, but I had faith that I could learn the language. My first three months were so confusing. I had no idea what was going on around me, but I persevered, determined to ultimately learn the language.

Signs in Costa Rica

Many people talk about wanting to learn a language, but saying and doing are two different things. Learning a language takes time, effort and persistence, and in all honesty, you need to be a little bit shameless.

If you are really going to try and learn another language you have to be willing to practice, even if you might sound goofy in the process, and you have to seek out opportunities to speak with people who can help teach you the language you are trying to learn.

Now, the best way to really learn a language is to move to a country which speaks the language you are aiming to master. Immerse yourself.  But, if that’s not in the cards, or if you’re hoping to try and learn a language before visiting a place, try these quick tricks that really helped me to prepare for Costa Rica, and to pick up on Spanish fast.

1. Label your life.

Post sticky notes all over everything – your home, your office, your car- and identify the items in the language you are trying to learn. I even added phrases like, “Close the door,” or “Turn off the lights,” to my sticky notes which were by the door and the light switch. As I did these actions, I would force myself to speak these phrases, which began to integrate them into my mind and my life.

2. Download an app like DuoLingo and start practicing.

DuoLingo is a fantastic app which helps you learn a foreign language through reading, writing, and speaking. While you are using it, you feel like you are playing a game. You earn points and can even track your progress and compete with other people who are trying to learn a language. If you have ever tried Rosetta Stone, it is very similar, but it’s available on your smartphone and it’s free.

3. Listen to music videos with lyrics.

A great way to make a connection between reading, speaking, and listening is through the use of music videos with lyrics, readily available on YouTube. Find some songs you like, and sing along to them. It will get you practicing the words, and it will help you to understand how the words actually sound when people say them. By reading the lyrics you will also become familiarized with spelling.

4. Learn how to say a few key phrases about your interests and how to ask basic questions.

Use Google Translate, or an app like itranslate on your phone, and start translating things that you would like to tell people about yourself in the process of getting to know someone. When I first moved to Costa Rica, I quickly learned how to tell people that I liked nature and hiking, because I wanted to do those things. I also taught myself how to ask simple questions like, “How was your weekend?” and then I would look up how to say what I had done the past weekend, so I could continue the conversation.

5. Watch TV or videos with subtitles.

Sometimes it is helpful to hear dialogue in your native language and to simultaneously read along in the language you are trying to learn. By reading along, you are introduced to new words, and it also helps you understand how you would say the phrases which are common in your native language.

6. Watch your favorite movie, but dubbed in a foreign language.

This advice was given to me by a French professor years ago. He asked me what my favorite movie was, and then he told me to go and watch it in the language which I wanted to learn. The reasoning behind this is that you already know all the lines to your favorite movie, so when you hear it spoken in another language you will be able to make the connection. I completely forgot about the advice, until it just happened organically. I was in Costa Rica, and one of my favorite movies came on tv, but completely dubbed in Spanish, and without English subtitles. I decided to watch it anyway, and lo-and-behold, the French professor was right! I understood everything.

7. Find a teacher.

If you are financially able, a professor is a great investment because they will teach you the official rules of the language. However, if you can’t afford a professor, find a teacher in a different way. Maybe you can see if there are any local gatherings of people in your area who speak the language you are trying to learn, or maybe you can reach out via the internet and find a new friend to practice with. If you are already living the country, practice speaking the language with people at local markets and stores.

8. Read a book!

As you progress with your language development, branch out into the realm of children’s books, and see what you can learn. The Little Prince is a beautifully written book for young adults which has been translated into hundreds of languages, and it is a great book to start with.

As you can see, there are many ways to bring a new language into your life. When you’re learning another language, it automatically opens you up to another world. It helps break down possible barriers, and allows you to go beyond what you know in order to connect with something new.

As you get started, allow yourself to enter a child-like state; be open to everything; soak it in like a sponge. Remember: Don’t get overly frustrated with yourself- it doesn’t happen overnight.

Learning a language is a fun and challenging process, and when you’re finally able to speak with someone in a language that’s not your own, you will feel a deep sense of satisfaction that lets you know it was all worthwhile.

 

Hot Springs of Iceland

Iceland. Brrr. When I visited the country in May 2015 I was expecting beautiful spring weather, never-ending sunny days, and fields of blooming flowers, but what I encountered more closely resembled the stark landscape of autumn. However, the gray days were no match for my sunny disposition, and I set forth to explore as much as I could during my few short days in the country. I visited the sulfury geysers, road tripped along the famous Golden Circle, walked the black sand beaches of the south coast, hiked along glacial lakes in the southeast, and encountered more waterfalls than I can count in between each stop. But what was my favorite part about Iceland? Without a doubt, it was the hot springs and hot spring culture!! 

While traveling through Iceland, I had the pleasure of experiencing several distinctly different versions of hot springs and I embraced them all whole-heartedly. From rural, to hike-able, to community style and finishing at the top tourist destination in the country, the Blue Lagoon, I made my way into each of them with a splash. Here I will share a re-cap of each, and you can see which style pool would be meant for you… 
1. The Rural Hole-in-the-Hillside Hot Spring 

This was my first hot spring in Iceland, and it came to me by accident. It had been a cold, rainy day, and on our drive we had passed dozens of signs with a man sitting in water, which we assumed to mean “hot springs”. This got us in the mood for a good long soak in a hot spring. As we were filling up gas near the Strokkur Geyser we asked the attendant where the nearest hot springs were, and he told us he knew of a really local place in a field about 20 minutes away. We set off, based on his loose directions, got lost, and ended up having an interesting cultural exchange with a woman who explained to us how to cover the last ten minutes of our expedition. 

“You drive forward past the thing that keeps the ships in place,” she said, as she drew something that looked like an anchor on a map. 

“Ok, look for an anchor,” said my one friend. 

“No, I think that’s a cattle guard. She’s saying ‘sheeps’,” replied my other friend. 

“Then drive past wooden people on the side of the road,” continued the woman. 

“Ok, so wooden sculptures of people alongside the road,” said my friend, again slightly wrong with her interpretation. 

“No,” contested the woman. “They are more like wooden dolls.” 

With these oddly specific directions, we again set off, and after a shocking encounter with an electric fence, we found the hidden yet public hot spring, nestled into the hills, in the middle of nowhere. There we met a local Icelandic couple and learned so much about Iceland, it’s people, their interests (“Free the nipple!”), and they even told us the history of the hot spring we were bathing in; apparently the farmer who owned the land found the hot spring and started washing his sheep who has eczema in the lower waters to cure their skin, and then he carved out the upper pool so he and other farmhands could soak as well. It turned out to be quite a popular destination, but the young groups that joined after us took the sheep washing station, leaving us the big, farmhand pool. 
 

The quaint changing house for the hot springs
  
The larger pool, carved into the hillside

2. The Hike-Able Hot Spring Pools of the South, Cerca 1923 

Our second experience with a hot spring was a little more straight-forward. We again were in the mood for a warm soak in a spring, so we started asking the locals if there were any pools around. We were dining at a delicious restaurant directly across the highway from the Skógafoss waterfall when we learned that, much to our delight, there was a hot spring pool a few kilometers up the road. Within minutes we were at the trail entrance that would take us to the Seljavallalaug hot pool. The trail was essentially non-existent, but we saw a steady stream of people walking deep into the valley, so we set off, crossing a freezing cold river en route, and within 10 minutes we came upon the pool, in all its simple yet spectacular glory. It was surrounded by snow-capped mountains (potentially seasonally dependent) with breathtakingly beautiful views in every direction. There are large, communal changing rooms available, so we ditched our clothes for our swimsuits and jumped into the warm water. These pools were not hot, unless you went directly towards the source- a rock wall at the back of the pool, or a front corner which had a pipe feeding directly from the mountain into the pool. We completely lost track of time as we soaked and swam, chatting with other visitors as much as amongst ourselves. When we emerged it was surprising to find out that it was 10pm. One of the perks of spring/summer in Iceland: never ending daylight! 
 

The beginning of the short hike to Seljavallalaug
 
 
Seljavallalaug Pool, nestled in the valley of the mountains
 

3. The Laugardalur Community Pools of Reykjavik 

  • These pools are much more modern than the previous two hot springs described. There are locker rooms where everyone strips down and showers before making their way out to the pools, which can be found both indoors and outdoors. I spent the entirety of my time there moving from pool to pool outside, enjoying Iceland’s constantly changing weather from the safety of warm-water pools. They say, “If you don’t like the weather, wait five minutes,” and it is absolutely true. I experienced everything from sun, to clouds, to rain, to slush-balls in a matter of a half hour. There are dozens of hot pools around the outer perimeter ranging from 38-44 degrees Celsius, including my personal favorite: a special saltwater pool around 42 degrees. When these pools get too hot for you, you can move to the larger, cooler pools where you even have the option to swim laps, if your inner athlete so desires. There is also a steam room, and a water slide, which is absolutely not to be missed. Let your inner child delight, and climb the stairs to the top of the tower, then wait for the “traffic light” to turn green and slide down. I was not expecting the tunnel to be so dark, and I was definitely not expecting the lit-up stars along the way. I was laughing with glee by the time I splashed down into the warm pool below. If you visit the pools during the week you may even see hundreds of school children splashing around for their mandatory swimming classes. 
I didn’t snap a photo of Laugardalur, but nearby is the Ásmundur Sveinsson Sculpture Museum, which is worth walking around

4. The Most Famous Hot Springs of Iceland

I almost didn’t go to the beautiful Blue Lagoon, because I thought maybe it was just one of those things that all tourists do, but on my last day in Iceland I decided to head to the infamous lagoon before making my way to the airport. Boy, am I glad I did! It was unlike anything I have ever experienced before, and my skin felt incredible for days afterwards. Read more about my trip to the Blue Lagoon here

 

Just outside the entryway you can see the untouched landscape of the lagoon and the celestial waters
  
 
And there you have it. From rustic hillsides to luxury spas, Iceland can fulfill all of your hot spring desires. Which one looks best to you? 

Driving in India

As I sat on a bus, making my way from one Indian city to the next and letting myself get lost in my own thoughts while watching the scenery blur by, I was snapped back to the here and now when our bus slammed on its breaks and swerved back into its own lane. What happened this time? I wondered, as I peered out the window to observe the culprit for our disruption: a young Indian man going through driver’s training. Our bus had been trying to overtake him while driving through a tunnel, only to come upon cows blocking us in the lane ahead…

  

Now, I don’t know one thing about the actual rules and regulations of driving in India, and I dare to guess that many of the people actually driving here don’t either. It’s really a “make it up as you go” kind of situation here, and to help give you an idea of what the roads are like in India, let me paint you a picture… 
First, take the busiest road you know and erase the lanes. Insert cars, busses, tractors, motorcycles, rickshaws, carts, camels and elephants going whichever way they want. 
  

Next, take every stray animal imaginable – dog, cow, monkey, whatever- and allow them to roam freely on said lane-less road. 
  

Then, take every (nonexistent) trashcan and turn it upside-down, spreading the contents everywhere. If you are so inclined, scoop some of these contents together in a pile and light them on fire. 

Now add in a homeless population who will bang on your windows, peddling for money. Some will be selling food, some will be pushing you to buy useless toys or souvenirs, and some will be carrying around babies and children to tug at your heartstrings. 

As a final touch, add in the incessant honking of horns. Think one horn-blow for every breath of every driver. 
If you’re coming from the Western World, it sounds chaotic, right? We are used to an organized flow of how things should go, but at the same time it’s kind of fun and exhilarating. You can do whatever you want. Sure there are rules, but they are made to be broken. 

Surprisingly enough, during my time in India I did not witness too many accidents, just a lot of little fender-bender bumps. Obviously severe crashes do occur, and when they do they are often fatal. Afterall, it’s not like an ambulance can make its way through the traffic any faster than everyone else! However, over the course of the years, I think the Indian drivers have developed approximately six eyes in their head to be able to see and sense whatever is coming their way. It is impressive! 

So next time you’re driving along, lamenting over a few bumps in the road, remember this post on driving in India, and think about your situation again…