Learning Languages while Backpacking around Southeast Asia

Travelling abroad has become easier than before. Backpackers have better access to places and Internet has made life cheaper when it comes to backpacking/travelling. Low-frill airlines, budget accommodation, packing tips, information on secret places; all can be done effortlessly.

However; communication is one part that does not come easy. While travelling to a different country, it can be confronting to not be able to communicate the primary needs. Paying bills, asking for directions, bargaining while shopping would be fun if you are able to interact with the locals in their language. It does not only help you get a better deal but the people would also consider your efforts of talking in their language. So why not learn a foreign language when travelling to a foreign country. Being able to talk in a foreign language brings a self confidence and enhances your experience. Negotiating in local language can be lot of fun. To be practical, learning languages is not a piece of cake. But learning the basics or few important phrases can be beneficial.

Learning Languages while backpacking around Southeast Asia

Southeast Asia is one part of country that is adored and preferred by backpackers and honey-mooners. The paradisiac white sand beaches, ambrosial cuisines, cost-efficient accommodation and excellent flight connection makes this place an extra-ordinaire for the tourists. Highly dominated by Sunni Muslims and Roman Catholics, Southeast Asia also follows Buddhism. The languages vary from country to country and region to region. Malay is spoken not only in Malaysia but also Singapore and Brunei. Cambodia speaks in Khmer. Thailand’s official language is Thai and Indonesia’s official language is Indonesian. Apart from English language, these four languages – Malay, Khmer, Thai and Indonesian are the four most spoken and well-known languages of Southeast Asia. So let’s see how to learn different languages while backpacking in different SE Asian countries.

Learn Thai in Bangkok

Bangkok is known as the Land of Smiles; the people being affable and cordial to tourists. The experience of learning Thai in Bangkok would not only bring smile on your face but also on the locals of the city. Thai language is considered as a difficult language to learn, however, learning any language is as difficult as it is easy. A right approach is what you need. Knowing the complete language is impossible. Hence learning the basics can be a good idea.

Lonely Planet offers Phrasebooks for almost all countries. Learning Thai in Bangkok would be easier through Thai Phrasebook. Thai for Beginners by Benjawan Poomsan Becker and Speak like a Thai – volume 1 by the same author are the most recommended books that can be purchased on Amazon. Get Talking Thai in Ten Daysby David Smyth comes with audio.

Online resources to learn languages are available in plenty. Learn Thai - Phrasebook for Travel in Thailand by Codegent is an easy-to-use app for iPhone users and Android users. Lonely Planet’s Thai Phrasebook App is available too.

There are institutes that offer people short term courses to learn Thai in Bangkok. Language Express andPiammitr Language Schoolare the institutes well known and well reviewed for their excellence in teaching profession. They offer flexible courses for reasonable prices and the teachers are skilled. Thai Language Station (TLS), Bangkok too offer similar courses like the earlier school, starting from 5400 baht for 60 hours. Next is the Thai Language Solutions School; well-set with low-cost tuition fees allowing all levels of learning Thai i.e. from beginners to advance.

Cambodia Quiz

Learn Khmer: Cambodia

Khmer is pronounced as Come-Air or Kham-Air. Cambodia is culturally rich in its heritage. The Khmer language is the oldest language spoken by 8 million Cambodians and the second most spoken language in SE Asia. Learning Khmer might not be difficult but writing and reading this language is complicated. It requires lot of patience and practice. Pronunciation will not come easy either as the sound of this language is non-native.

Colloquial Cambodian: The Complete Course for Beginners by David Smyth is a reader’s recommended book which comes with audio CD and audio-book making it simpler for a beginner. Cambodian for Beginners by Richard K. Gilbert is another book that you can try your hands at. Both these books are available at Amazon. Lonely Planet offers Small Talk: Asia that helps you enough to be able to bargain and negotiate.

Thai Words and Phrases Lite is an Android App that is designed to provide most-spoken words, numbers, phrases and more. Similarly, iSpeakKhmer by Phal Ngim is an Apple app that is interactive with sounds.

Learn Malay: Malaysia & Indonesia

Malaysia is a multi-culture country. Indians, Chinese, Malays and many more races reside in Malaysia. This country has as many beaches and highlands as sky-scrapers and famous tall buildings. Malay is mostly spoken in SE Asian countries like Malaysia, Indonesia, Brunei and also Singapore. It is also known as Bahasa and is also an official language of Indonesia.

Malay Phrasebook by Lonely Planet offers two way dictionary with pronunciation and phrase-building. Collins Malay Phrasebook: the Right Word in your Pocket by Collins Gem is a travel essential. Say it in Indonesian (Malay) by Dover essays useful sentences for everyday living and also offers transliteration.

World Nomads Malay Language Guide by WorldNomads.com is an iPhone app for learning basics Malay. Android users can opt for Learn Malay by WagMob. Learning Indonesian by The Learning Indonesian Team is also a useful iPhone app for starters.

Similarly Lonely Planet offers Phrasebooks for Vietnamese, Indonesian and other Asian languages. Accurate research will help you select the right language guide. Android and Apple offers numerous Apps to interact in foreign languages.

Quick Tip: Pocket Dictionaries or Dictionary Apps for respective languages can be purchased for quick reference.

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Comments 3 comments

Readmikenow profile image

Readmikenow 16 months ago

I like to go backpacking. This is valuable information for all backpackers. Good article.


Jyoti 3 years ago

Thanks sunil :)


sunilkunnoth2012 profile image

sunilkunnoth2012 3 years ago from Calicut (Kozhikode, South India)

you have done a wonderful job. congrats!

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