Hitchhiking and language learning

Many people hitchhike. It's nothing too special. And the main reasons for doing it are quite obvious I guess: It is exciting. You meet new and very different people. You don't pollute the planet. You don't have to spend money. You have someone to talk to while doing distances. Or you just enjoy the general randomness that accompanies #hitchhiking . All of these aspects are really great. But one big benefit is often neglected or highly underestimated: The option to learn and practice a foreign language. This doesn't seem too special as well. Practicing a #language, so what? The fact that you are exposed to different languages when travelling abroad is obvious. So sure, if you already know (the basics of) a language, you also get to practice it with the people who take you. Yet, lately I realized that there is much more to it. And I want to take the time to give the reasons why I think learning languages while hitchhiking is great fun (and probably the best way to practice a language).

I want to start with something I think many people do not realize: Entering the car of a stranger puts the both of you (or the three/four/five/… of you) in a very special situation. What makes this situation so unique is the fact that the conversation you are having is not forced. Once you are together inside the car it is clear that a conversation will happen. You might be curious who is taking you. And for sure your drivers are curious whom they are taking. Also the alternative to talking would be to remain silent. Which can happen for various reasons, but mostly it just comes natural that you have a conversation.

And that's the main point. Because other situations in life, like talking to someone on the train, come with doubts. On a train (or on the bus, on the street, at a party, in a cafe,…) it is much more difficult to know whether the person you just started talking to actually wants this conversation. Maybe they think you are hitting on them. Maybe they are just too nice to stop talking to you. And also regarding language learning: how do you know whether they can be bothered to listen to your bad level of the language? Sure you can mention that you are currently practicing and want to improve. But do they want to take the time and the effort to help you there? Who knows. At least there are doubts. And for many people these doubts can be inhibiting. This is what makes us not just start talking with anyone in so many situations. Well, fair enough, we also don't want to be talked to sometimes.

Back to our special situation: Hitchhiking. Two (or more) people stuck in a car. For a certain amount of time. So talking it is. But what else makes language learning while hitchhiking great?

Some other aspects to take into consideration are:

I want to finish with one of the points that made me think a lot about all this hitchhiking and language learning. Some time ago I asked a friend who spent a month in South America (with a friend) how many conversations in Spanish she had that where longer than 15 minutes. She replied one. And it was during some guided tour where she was in a car with a Spanish speaking person. It reminded me of myself when I was in South America (back in the days when I didn't know that hitchhiking can be a great alternative to flying. And that there are still many places nearby that I haven't visited.). I spent three weeks there, my Spanish level was low. We were travelling by bus. Sleeping in hostels. My first longer conversation was on the flight back. I sat next to a nice person from Guatemala.

I can tell from my experience of two months hitchbiking through Italy, that it was in cars where my Italian improved the most. I remember that in the first car I struggled a lot: How are the verb endings? All the mixing with Spanish. But with the second and third driver the flow began.

Sure you have to actually want to learn the language. But if the excitement is there, hitchhiking is the best way to practice a language. So maybe reconsider booking a four week intensive Spanish course. Just have a look at the grammar, learn the very basics and start hitchhiking around Spain (or any other Spanish speaking country).

Ah and in terms of starting to learn a language (not practice) I highly recommend the free languagetransfer courses on https://www.languagetransfer.org/audio-course (also on YouTube and Soundcloud).

For those who want to hear more about hitchhiking with a folding bike, you can follow me on Mastodon: https://mastodon.social/@HitchbikeRevolution