Tips for learning a new language abroad

  • learning a new language
Published on 2017-09-06 at 10:59
Some of the most well-prepared expats may begin the process of learning the language of their destination well in advance of leaving for their new life abroad, but, for the rest of us, it can be hard to find the time while preparing for a big move. If you are not already fluent or knowledgeable of the language spoken in the host country you have moved to, there are many things you can do to help you pick it up as quickly as possible.

Take advantage of the total immersion

Being in the country itself is a great benefit when trying to learn a new language, and you shouldn't underestimate the benefits of immersion. You are surrounded by people that speak the local language, radio stations with news in the local language (and maybe even some catchy tunes), and TV shows. Don't stick to Netflix and Youtube, and try and immerse yourself in the language. If it is one of the popular international languages, chances are blockbuster movies will have subtitles or there will be a dubbed version you can watch, to help you get started.

The people around you will be speaking the local language. You can zone out and treat it all as background noise, or try to tune in and see if you can understand what's being said. Obviously, eavesdropping is rude, but trying to catch a phrase here and there of someone interacting in a supermarket or restaurant will help your familiarity.

The final stage of your complete immersion is joining the conversation – try and increase the number of interactions you have in the language. Maybe start with ordering at a restaurant (where larger ones will likely have staff who can understand English, if you begin to flail) and go from there.

Keep track of new vocabulary

You'll be picking up new words left, right, and centre, so try and gather them somewhere – on your phone or writing them down in a notebook that you can keep handy. This way you can give yourself time to learn new words and slowly integrate them into your vocabulary. Don't be shy to ask people where possible if you haven't understood a particular word or if a word has been used in a new context.

Of course, you should try and keep up with some academic learning, and by keeping track of new vocabulary you learn, you can apply this to your overall learning of the language – using an online course, or old fashioned text books. Words you learn from those around you may help you speak more like a native, which will undoubtedly benefit your overall expat experience.

Don't let fear get the best of you

brave child

You may feel hesitant to speak to people in their native language when you are just starting out, but be brave and give it a go! Sure, a few people in a few places may be less than impressed by your attempts to stumble through a sentence, but, in most cases, people will be happy that you're giving it a go, and may even offer some advice. You can start out maybe with basic interactions (such as saying hello and goodbye, or asking for the bill) and use English for more complicated interactions, and try to increase your incorporation of the local language from there.

In many places, it can be easy to slip into the comfort zone of using English, as it may be widely spoken. Also, local people may hear you speak English and do the same out of politeness and for your ease of understanding. When you feel confident enough that you understand the language, try and get people to speak to you in the local language if you can – perhaps people that you have daily interactions with.

Get help from the professionals

It can be hard to learn a new language or improve basic language skills by yourself, especially if you're just getting set up abroad. With all that going on, it can be tough not to just try your luck with English or watch films in your native language when you want to relax. In which case, you may want to give some structure to your learning.

A private tutor can help with one to one lessons tailored to your skill level and your learning style. Be one or two sessions a week, having the opportunity to ask questions to someone who is much more familiar with the language and address any issues you may not be able to overcome independently, can expedite the learning process. An evening course may also be an option; particularly those who want to learn while in education or employment. These courses will not only provide structure and guidance, but also put you in touch with people who are in the same situation. Having people with whom you can share your frustrations may also prevent feelings of isolation and may make it easier to overcome other issues that come up when moving abroad.

If you have a while before you start your job and are looking to get a grip on the local language quickly, you may want to consider an immersion course. You can have a look for immersion courses that can be anywhere from one to six weeks long. These intensive courses are intended to give you a short but thorough introduction to the language, and it may be a bit overwhelming for some. However, if you are keen to learn and don't mind a bit of studying, this can be a great option.

Do you have any tips for learning a new language while abroad? Share your thoughts in the comments below!