The Dos and Don’ts of Learning a Language Abroad
Travelling or living abroad is a great step to take in the language learning journey because it offers you opportunities to use your skills in ways you never could back home. However, moving abroad or travelling to a country where your target tongue is spoken won’t automatically guarantee that your language abilities will increase substantially. It’s all in the way you travel, so check out these Dos and Don’ts of learning a language abroad before you start planning your trip!
- Don’t give in to speaking English
Being able to speak good English is a valuable ability and there are some people abroad who may see you as an opportunity to practise their language skills. Remember, you’re there to learn the local language too! It may be tough to not give in to people’s demands that you help them with their English, but you have to be firm. Keep talking in the local tongue, even if they are replying back in English. This way, you both get a little practice in!
- Do live with locals
It can be tempting to seek out the company of fellow expats, but this can be detrimental to your language progress! Instead of renting a flat with English-speaking roommates, try to find native speakers looking for a flatmate, or move in with a local family. The less English they speak, the better, as this will force you to practise the target language even when you don’t feel like it. You may feel like you’re out of your comfort zone, but living with locals won’t just improve your language skills, it can offer some great cultural experiences too.
- Do say yes
You won’t be able to effectively learn a language if you’re constantly saying ‘no’ to new and strange opportunities. I have a friend who said ‘yes’ to being on a Taiwanese TV show, just so he could practise his Mandarin! While the experience was terrifying, he never regretted doing it. You should do the same! As long as you feel safe, say ‘yes’ to strange suggestions—they’ll be great occasions for language acquisition, and think of all the fun stories you’ll have to tell later!
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- Don’t stop studying
Living in a foreign country doesn’t mean you can now toss your grammar books and forget all about your vocab booklets. You’ve got to keep up the hard work if you really want to progress, and drilling yourself daily on grammar and vocab just to keep your skills polished is ideal, even if you’ve spent all day speaking the language. What’s even better is that you can practise the things you learn at home or in the classroom out in the real world. You’re more likely to retain new knowledge as opportunities to put them to use abound when you live or travel abroad!
- Do get involved locally
Find activities that allow you to experience new things while improving your language skills at the same time. This can be anything from watching a local TV show every week, to volunteering at a soup kitchen where your language skills can be put to the test. While it might be tempting to just switch on Netflix and vegetate in front of a show in English, opt instead for a telenovela, or some other local show. And while volunteering can be scary, you’ll feel so much more fulfilled as an expat when you know you’re giving back while receiving something in return too! Both these options make the learning process more fun and, in some cases, give you the chance to meet and make friends with more locals.
- Don’t give up
There will be days when the words just appear to flow, and others where you can’t seem to string a sentence together. This is normal when you’re learning a new language, even if you’re learning it overseas. Set concise goals so that you don’t lose track of what you hope to accomplish. And, above all, be gentle with yourself. If you beat yourself up every time you make a mistake or stick your foot in your mouth, you’ll end up feeling emotionally exhausted and won’t be able to progress at a good pace. All language learners go through this, so you’re definitely not alone!
Do you have any tips or tricks for learning a language while travelling or living abroad? What are some of your big Dos and Don’ts?