Have you ever heard about couchsurfing? If you haven’t, it’s an online platform where people can stay at other people’s places for free. The main goal of couchsurfing is not free accommodation: it provides a deeper connection with the locals; it’s about visiting their city through them.
A Place to Stay or a Place to Evolve?
While the majority of people mainly use this wonderful website for travelling or meeting people, its use as a language learning tool is often overlooked. The locals welcoming new people into their homes are almost always willing to share as much as they can about their culture, cuisine and, of course, language.
During a recent trip around Prague, Vienna, Bratislava and Budapest, I chose to couchsurf from one city to the next. I even did a bit of hitchhiking, which is another unexpected way to learn about a place. I was amazed by the amount of words I picked up in such a short period of time. Instead of having a dictionary and a guide, I had a pen, a notebook, and my hosts!
As soon as I arrived at each home, we had a conversation about practically everything, although mostly in English. However, at any point when my language curiosity was peaked, my hosts were eager to teach me on the spot. Not only did I learn how to say “Where is the toilet?” for instance, but I learned how to spell and pronounce it correctly.
I was lucky enough to stay with a Slovakian translator in Bratislava. She is also fluent in English and French. If you put together two people with a love for languages and the intricacies and similarities of grammar, a conversation can last hours.
In Vienna, my host taught me how to say: “Where is the tube station?” with a proper Viennese accent. Eventually, when I needed information, I asked a local and she responded as if I spoke fluent German (Wienerisch). I had to stop her mid-sentence and turn to English!
As long as I have my notebook with me when I go back to those countries, I’m confident I will be able to get by without help.
More than a Language Lesson
The experience of couchsurfing is rewarding for both the host and the guest, as the host gets to practice whichever language you speak.
The Slovakian lady I stayed with had two young kids — an eight-year-old boy and a six-year-old girl — who were eager to talk with me, even though they could not understand everything. They were learning English with an English speaker at home, for free! They were also learning about sharing, meeting new people, their culture and their cooking skills. It’s a win-win situation.
A New Kind of Tourism
Couchsurfing through a validated website provides a safe system to avoid unwanted situations, which involves guest reviews and the ability to connect via social media.
This way of travelling — or learning — might not be for everyone, but if you’re willing to have a different experience and rely on another person’s generosity, you might just fall in love with couchsurfing. You will return home with a insightful perspective of a people, culture, and language. You might never want to travel normally again!