Many language learners begin studying purely out of interest, but the majority of us have external motivation – relocation, travel, personal reasons. For those learners who are planning to move to a place where they speak a different language: when is the best time to start?
There are always differing opinions, of course, as with anything. However, I don’t think many people could disagree with me saying that the earlier you can start learning, the better. Although it always seems like it will be difficult to fit language lessons into your daily schedule, it is usually a lot more difficult when you’re forced to live a regular life in an unfamiliar environment. Everyday interactions become a lot more challenging when you don’t have any knowledge of the language. If you have even a basic knowledge of vocabulary and a survival level of day-to-day language, things will go more smoothly.
It may be said that you learn faster when you are in an immersion environment, but imagine how much faster you would learn in your adopted country if you just started learning a little bit earlier. You could use the advantage of prior knowledge to develop and perfect your skills, rather than using your time abroad to grasp the vocabulary and basic grammar points.
From personal experience, I can definitely recommend at least getting the basics under your belt before moving into a totally new language. I took up a last-minute position and didn’t have time to learn any language, and struggled for a quite a long time. I did manage to improve slightly by being around the language a lot, but I work predominantly in English, which doesn’t help. I’ve recently (finally) begun language courses, and to have things finally pointed out clearly to me is fantastic. I feel like I’ve improved immensely in just a few weeks, and it’s a bit upsetting to imagine how good I would have been if I’d just started learning when I got here.
So, if you know you will need a language for a particular date in the future, don’t put it off! Even if there are no live situations for you to practice in in your current life, take advantage of your tutor, peers, and online resources to get a head start. You won’t regret it!
For another good opinion on this, as well as some expat advice, check out Expat Tips and Resources.