If you’re having a break in your English course over the summer, but you want to maintain your level of English, you need to practise! And that means finding people to talk to. If you’re going abroad on holiday, no problem – you’ll need to use English while you’re travelling around. But don’t limit yourself to Can I have my room key? or What time’s the next train to Barcelona? – start a conversation! Talk to the staff of the hotel – Is the hotel busy at the moment? Where do most of your guests come from? Have you worked here long? Or try talking to the other guests. Even if you’re holidaying in your own country, there’ll probably be foreign tourists at the hotel to talk to. Notice the ones who speak to the hotel staff in English and then make an excuse to talk to them. The most difficult part is starting. Try a comment like It’s hot today, isn’t it? Have you been to the beach? or How old is your baby? What’s his/her name? Or ask for help – Excuse me, have you seen the hotel manager anywhere? or Excuse me, do you know if there’s a chemist’s near here? Alternatively you could pretend to have found an object which you think they have lost – Excuse me, is this your scarf? (just make sure they don’t see you wearing it the next day!). Once they have replied, it’s easier to continue the conversation : Where are you from? Are you on holiday? Have you been here before? Are you having a good time?
Hotels also provide another good opportunity for improving your English-satellite TV. A lot of hotels have English channels such as CNN or BBC World, and while you probably don’t want to spend your holiday watching TV, just ten minutes every day will help. It doesn’t matter if you don’t understand much-just try to pick out the key words or the main ideas.
But even while you’re still at home, there may be opportunities to talk to tourists in your own town. Look for them – they’re the ones desperately looking at street maps, or studying the tube map with worried expressions on their faces. Be helpful. Ask Can I help you? Are you lost? Where do you want to go? And when you’ve resolved their problem, ask a few of the questions above-Where are you from? Are you here on holiday? and so on.
The idea of starting a conversation with strangers can be daunting – especially in a foreign language. But there has been a lot of research into what makes a successful language learner, and one of the findings is, not surprisingly, that the most successful learners are the ones who take every possible opportunity to use the language. The holiday period is ideal for this – don’t waste it!