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The Backpacker’s Monologue: Becoming Fairly Fluent Before You Arrive


The backpacker’s monologue is a unique language-learning technique which helps travelers master the key words and phrases of a destination country quickly.

Updated: 2019-04-14.

As I travel to each new country, I like to at least have a slight understanding of the local language.

Not only do I hate feeling so helpless when I can’t figure out the cost of a banana or where the nearest toilet is, but not knowing even the most basic of words makes me all but unapproachable.

It would likewise be challenging to approach someone for assistance, and in a foreign land where I can barely converse in the native tongue, that situation is ever more likely; there appears to be an inverse relationship between language ability and the necessity for assistance when abroad.

Being able to communicate at least the most fundamental greetings, words, and phrases in a host locale’s lingua franca has innumerable benefits. From sparking conversation with a native to getting back to the correct airport on time, it is unanimous that the more you understand, the better.

Also, I believe that wherever you go, you are an ambassador for your hometown, your views and opinions, and your public image in general. Learning some essential words and phrases shows that you tried and made an effort just to enable you to speak to the few people you may encounter, and will not go unnoticed, even though it may be a subconscious acknowledgement.

And don’t be afraid to stumble with pronunciation or words and embarrass yourself; often times, the people will embrace your efforts at trying, because you stepped out of your safe comfort zone simply to talk to them.

There are many other great and just as important reasons why learning a few words and phrases in the local language, at least, is important, but you get the idea. With that said, how can this be achieved before the next journey? Which words/phrases should be prioritized? What’s the best method to learn these important words and phrases in the shortest time possible?

Everyone has varying methods and techniques to language retention and comprehension. Whether its aural, physical, visual, or logical, social or solitary, each person may thrive using one learning style, while finding another completely difficult. So, what’s this solution that I am vouching for?

The technique that I came up with that best aids me as far as retention is what I like to call the Backpacker’s Monologue.

The Backpacker’s Monologue is fairly simple in idea. It first involves coming up with a sort of monologue in your native language, filled with all the words and phrases that are deemed relevant and crucial by the individual.

This monologue, which doesn’t have to be longer than a paragraph, is then memorized in the speaker’s primary language.

After that, the same monologue should be translated into the intended language. If you can memorize both your native language monologue and the second language monologue, you should be able to learn your selected words and phrases quickly and with great retention.

For example, here is my personal Backpacker’s Monologue in English:

“Hello, how are you? I am fine, thank you. My name is Christian, what is your name? Yes, I am pleased to meet you, but no, I cannot speak much (language). How do you say? Excuse me, where is the nearest toilet? Please help me, and I’m sorry. Have a great day, bye!”

This might sound like the ramblings of a syphilitic brain, but you can see that it is not too much to remember, while incorporating many of the words and phrases that I felt were crucial.

Here is the same paragraph, in the Polish language, which helped me get by when visiting Warsaw:

“Cześć, jak się masz? Dobrze, dziękuję. Nazywam się Christian, jak masz na imię? Tak, miło mi, ale nie, nie mówię dobrze po polsku. Jak się mówi? Przepraszam, gdzie jest toaleta? Proszę mi pomóc, przepraszam. Miłego dnia, pa!”

The one above is the informal version, and here’s the formal version:

“Dzień dobry, jak się masz? Dobrze, dziękuję. Nazywam się Christian, jak się pan/pani nazywa? Tak, miło pana/panią poznać, ale nie, nie mówię dobrze po polsku. Jak się mówi? Przepraszam, gdzie jest toaleta? Proszę mi pomóc, przepraszam. Miłego dnia, do widzenia!”

You are bound to sound somewhat unusual as you take on a new language, but so does everyone. Once you devise and learn your own variation of the backpacker’s monologue, you can then learn to speak the translated version.

It helps if you recite it and learn it in a sing-songy way, and then recite the translated one in the same manner. This will allow you to associate a certain phrase or set of words in your monologue by the tune you may have used.

This was a weird post, and may be not too useful for many of you, but I just wanted to put my method of learning out there.

Feel free to comment or contact me if you know another method of language learning that helps you! Oh, and check out these language learning quotes for some inspiration!

Christian Eilers
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Christian Eilers
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1 comment
  • I really liked your backpacker’s monologue. I think it’s a great idea. As I travel, I’m bound to use one of those phrases sooner or later. Thanks for this idea!

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