If you’re planning on spending an extended period of time abroad whether it be for work, travel, leisure or cultural diversity, learning the local language is important.
One of the best decisions I ever made while living overseas was committing myself to learning French.
Some of you may even think that just moving abroad and interacting with the locals will be enough to learn a foreign language!
While this is true to a certain extent, you will never learn more than the very basics. You would be surprised how easy it is to get caught into the trap of talking English with everyone you meet while living abroad.
Why is it important to learn a foreign language?
The main reason why learning a foreign language is so important is because of the cultural diversity. The best thing that you can do to understand another culture is by learning their language.
Being able to converse and interact with others in their native language is completely different to doing it in English. You are able to see how they express themselves and better understand the way they think.
What can I do to start learning before you move abroad?
There are a few different ways that are sure to skyrocket your learning and make sure you make the most of your time abroad.
If you’re able to learn the basic grammatical structures and some everyday vocabulary, you will be able to start speaking straight away upon arrival abroad and improve your speaking abilities rapidly.
The 3 main tools that I recommend to get started are:
This is without a doubt the number one resource I recommend using if you are looking to learn a foreign language. It helps you learn basic grammatical structures, teaches you everyday vocabulary and best of all it’s completely free.
My suggestion is starting to learn your target language on Duolingo 2-3 months prior to your arrival abroad.
Although learning grammar and vocabulary is extremely important, understanding locals talk is just as important. There is no quick fix to being able to understand a foreign language other than to listen to it.
My recommendation is to download your favourite movies in your target language and watch them with English subtitles. After a little while watch them with the subtitles of your target language for better comprehension of the grammar structures used.
For example if I am a native English speaker and I want to learn Spanish, I would download my favourite movie or tv series in Spanish and watch it with English subtitles. After watching a few movies and getting a better understanding of Spanish, I would watch a movie in Spanish with Spanish subtitles.
3. Start Speaking
Probably the hardest thing to do when learning another language is speaking. It can be extremely embarrassing speaking with others and being incomprehensible.
My advice, get over it!
The only way to improve your speaking abilities and get rid of your accent is to speak. Now, this can be difficult when you are living at home, but there are websites that make speaking extremely accessible.
Italki is a website that allows you to pay native speakers to talk with you over video chat. There are hundreds of different teachers available for each language ranging from $5 – $30 an hour.
Fortunately, if you only want to talk for 10 minutes, you will only pay for the minutes you have been chatting rather than the whole hour.
If you are worried about sounding stupid when you arrive abroad, start talking before you leave and you will have a lot more confidence.
Do I need to take language classes while living abroad?
While it’s not 100% necessary to take language classes while you’re living abroad it is strongly recommended. You’re going to get a better understanding of how the language works and constantly be practising.
The two main ways to learn a language abroad are:
1. Private Lessons
Taking private language lessons involves having 1 on 1 conversations with a local. The local is able to not only cater their teaching to your level and have a more personal touch, but give you great recommendations of things to do in the area.
Furthermore, they are often quite cheap because they don’t involve buying expensive text books and they’re paid hourly.
I definitely recommend taking private lessons if you are planning on staying in the area for a while and want to reduce your learning time.
2. Language School
The promise of a certificate or diploma upon completion of a language school is what attracts so many people to attend. Unfortunately, these certificates normally don’t mean anything and aren’t recognised globally.
However, this isn’t the only reason why language schools are a more popular option.
They’re also a great way to make friends with other foreigners while living abroad. Because you’re in a classroom setting, you’re taking language classes with countless others who are also trying to learn. This means that you will be spending a lot of time with others who are in the same situation as you, alone in a foreign country.
The downside of attending a language school is the price. Most of the time they cost thousands of dollars for a few weeks of classes. These classes are very generic and struggle to adapt the lessons to cater to your ability.
On top of that, it is easy to spend too much time with your classmates who are also foreigners, and not enough time with locals. While I’m not suggesting ignoring your classmates, you should still make an effort to meet locals who can give you a better cultural experience and converse with you in their language.
To summarise, learning a foreign language can be as quick as you want it to be. If you’re willing to spend time learning by using the tools that I have recommended, then you will be speaking in a foreign language in no time.
However, if you are lazy, shy or embarrassed to make an effort, then you may live abroad for years and still only be able to talk in English. Trust me, I know many people like this!!!
If you know of any other tools or tricks that you use to learn a foreign language, I would love to hear about them in the comments below.