Some Tips for Language Learning Abroad

by Troy Peden

If you are studying, volunteering or interning abroad in a non-English speaking destination language learning is probably a high priority for you. Some people claim they are not great at learning languages, and yet they speak perfect English. More accurately, they may just not be confident learning another language or get embarrassed when trying to speak a foreign language. These challenges can be overcome, everyone can learn a second or third language, it is all about your motivation.

Foreign Language Books at Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial Library, Washington, D.C.

To help you get your confidence back, here are a few tips to bring you some motivation for learning and practicing a new language:

1. Start before you leave home.

Buy a book, an audio book, download a language lesson application, or buy Rosetta Stone language learning software. Even if you do not have time to learn the language in advance simply get comfortable listening to the language, because knowing the sounds and breaking down the words is a critical first step.

2. Use it whenever and wherever you can. 

The shopkeeper may speak English and your language skills may be weak, but still use what you have.  Get comfortable, gain confidence by using it little by little. Don't worry about how ridiculous you may sound, just get the practice!

3. Carry a small pad of paper with you.

Every time you hear a word for the first time write it down. Ask the meaning or look it up, this can become your new dynamic vocabulary list.  These are in fact the words that you are hearing daily so they are probably important to learn.

4. Memorize phrases.

Not every language teacher would agree, but memorizing daily phrases in their entirety allows you to start conversations and have more useful interactions with locals earlier than just piecing together words.

5. Get a language buddy.

Post on a local bulletin board or website that you are looking for a language exchange partner. This language buddy will do wonders for your spoken skills, not to mention your acculturation.  Language partners provide a safe and relaxed environment where you can try anything without the anxiety of laughing audiences.

6. Live in a Homestay.

There are plenty of reasons why homestays are the best way to live abroad, safety, cultural immersion, networking, but perhaps the best reason is the language practice you will receive at home.  If your family speaks English ask them to speak to you in the local language, they will generally understand and respect you for trying, and you won't have to ask them again.

7. Listen to Music. 

Listening to music, reading lyrics, and even trying to sing a song in karaoke is a great way to practice, and songs are complete with trendy colloquialisms too.

Girl choosing a song on her phone

8. Get engaged.

If you are studying abroad, get an internship on the side. If you are volunteering abroad, take a class on the side.  If you are interning abroad, join a club.

Play soccer with the locals, find a gym, take a cooking class, meet people at the plaza, take a dance class, whatever you decide to do, just get involved. Every minute with a local is a language learning opportunity.

9. End your day with a language review.

At the end of your day pull out your vocabulary list, start a new list, take a couple of your new phrases, and practice them all.  Go to bed with thoughts of the new language and soon you might be speaking fluently in your dreams.

Language learning is about confidence, practice, and immersion. 

There are no substitutes for  speaking and no magic language-learning pill.  There will be bumps, embarrassing situations, and misunderstandings along the way but the rewards will be worth the journey.  Speaking the language is part of understanding the culture and essential to a complete cultural immersion abroad.

If you want to make your entire trip about language learning, consider a language-specific study abroad program.