Language skills are some of the most rewarding and in-demand skills a person can have. It’s no secret, though, that it can take a large time commitment and serious devotion to really become fluent. Digging a little deeper, you often find plenty of reliable sources stating that the best way to learn a language is by taking language courses abroad, in-country, and surrounded by vivacious, loquacious locals.
For students, finding the time to learn a language abroad is not difficult; between winter break, spring break, summer vacation, and all of the other random holidays you have off (May the Fourth, anyone?), there is no excuse not to spend some time taking language courses abroad. For those in the working world, however, finding the time to learn a language abroad can be very challenging, especially for those living in countries like the U.S., where only two weeks of vacation time per year is customary and most people want to spend their vacation time actually on vacation.
You might tell yourself that you’ll pick up plenty of Spanish during your five day beach trip to Cancun, but you know (and we know) that you’re more likely to come home with a bunch of weird tan lines than any real language skills.
Just because you don’t have much time off doesn’t mean taking language courses abroad is out of the question, though. When you add up weekends, holidays, and vacation time, most people have about 125 days per year when they are not working. Yes, you heard us right. That’s basically the same amount of time you need to binge-watch every show on TV. Stop telling yourself you don’t have the time and instead, actually use your time off productively and learn how to maximize your opportunities at work.
There is a lot you can do to make your dream of learning a language abroad come true, so let’s get creative!
Save up sick days, PTO, and vacation days.
This is the easiest way to find the time to take language courses abroad. Calculate how much time off your employer gives each year between vacation time, paid holidays, and sick/personal days and save them. Your friends want to go on a four day trip to Las Vegas? Skip it. You want to call in sick because you’re hungover? Slam an ibuprofen, chug some Gatorade, and hop to it. If you’re one of the lucky ones who has practically sold your soul for two weeks vacation each year, these days off are precious and not to be wasted (literally).
Leverage your skills to your boss.
There is no doubt that knowing another language is an invaluable skill, and any global company would be crazy not to have employees who speak multiple languages. When planning ways to take language courses abroad, think in terms of how you can make that language work for your boss so they will be more likely to give you the time off (and maybe even fund part of your trip? Hello paid paid vacation!) Having you understand something more will make your work stronger, ultimately giving both you and your company a leg up.
Even if the language you are planning on studying abroad does not directly fit into your company’s strategy, there are so many other professional benefits to traveling and exposing yourself to new things. By learning a language abroad, you are strengthening all of your written and verbal communication skills, and you could be turning yourself into a better employee without even realizing it. Who knows the types of skills you could come home with that will make you that much better at your job! Can you renew my passport? Oui, oui. Can you translate this contract? Ja, natürlich. Can you take over the company? No problema. The sky’s the limit!
Speak in terms of business development.
Having someone in the company with your language skills is not only good for you, but it could open up doors for the company as a whole. Leverage your language goals so you’re doing your employer a favor by creating opportunities to do business internationally (if you don’t already). If you see an opportunity in the marketplace for your company to do business in Germany but no one in your company speaks German or knows the difference between a dirndl and lederhosen, this is a great opportunity to have someone get in on the ground floor and start developing the business in a new way.
Take an unpaid leave.
Most companies only offer two to three weeks of paid vacation days, which we all know is not enough to really experience another culture and language. Some businesses also allow their employees to take additional time off if they agree to not receive compensation during this time. This is something that is probably not announced at your place of work, as employers don’t want to have their teams constantly calling out from exotic places. However, if you lay out your plans to your boss and explain that you want to take some additional unpaid time off to learn French while volunteering in Senegal, they will probably be more likely to agree to it than if you wanted to go on a booze cruise around the Caribbean after already using all of your vacation days.
You can also look for opportunities within your company, so always be on the lookout for opportunities to travel internationally through your company, and then ways to potentially extend your time there. The bigger and more international the company, the more options there are to jet over to a different location and really learn a new language.
Take advantage of business trips.
Everyone knows that networking is one of the best things you can do to grow a brand, so most companies send representatives to several trade shows and conferences each year. Even if your company doesn’t get involved in these types of events, perhaps there are opportunities for employees to go on customer visits or regional sales tours. Whatever the option may be, tack on extra weekends or a few vacation days if you can in order to really maximize the experience and soak up as much as possible. A four day business trip to Madrid can quickly turn into a 10 or 11 day Spanish language learning opportunity if you plan it correctly.
Some employers are really cool about scheduling and location flexibility, and as long as their teams get their work done, they probably won’t care where they do it from. If your company is one that offers this type of flexibility, jump on it! With everything nowadays running through wifi, email, and mobile devices, it is easier than ever to work from somewhere other than an office. Working from a cafe in Paris and taking French classes on the side is so much better than staring at your cubicle walls while listening to coworkers gossip around the water cooler. Just make sure that you’re leaving time to actually get your work done in between practicing your plus croissants, s'il vous plaît!
Take time off in between jobs.
If you are thinking about making a career change in your life, consider taking some time off in between leaving your current job and starting your new role. Most hiring managers understand that people changing jobs (and often times relocating as well) may need a few weeks to get their lives together, so why not tack on an extra week or two before starting? If the new company wants you badly enough, they will wait until you are ready to start, and most new bosses will be impressed with your desire to acquire a new skill.
If you’re feeling bold, you could even think about taking a gap year to learn a language abroad. This usually only works if you’re already considering leaving your job, as most employers aren’t too keen on letting their team members leave for months on end (unless you’re Andy Bernard), but a gap year works out perfectly if you want to take some real time off in between jobs.
Find language courses abroad that will work with you.
Coordinating language courses or private tutors abroad can be a gargantuan task, especially since you have limited time to devote to vetting schools or making contacts in a foreign language. Instead, you can consider finding language courses abroad through the magic of the internet; there are organizations out there who will work with your tight-schedule and accommodate your needs.
Be sure to read reviews of different schools in different destinations to get a feel for how flexible they are, as well as a general pulse on the quality of their programs. Organizations like Maximo Nivel for Spanish, Edu-Inter for French, or KCP International for Japanese are all great places to start your research.
There is an infinite amount of ways to find the time to learn a language abroad; if you truly want it badly enough, you will find a way.
Most employers are reasonable people who want their employees to try new things and constantly be learning, and the worst your boss can say is no (or “you’re fired”, but unless your boss is Donald Trump, you’re probably in the clear). Stay on the lookout for opportunities to take language courses abroad and be open with your boss about your language goals. If all else fails, you could always fake the flu for two weeks!