Study Foreign Languages Abroad

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A Guide to Studying Foreign Languages Abroad

Have you tried to learn a language and something about it just doesn’t click with you? Do the words “Rosetta Stone” make you cringe? Are you going to scream if you have to make one more set of vocab flash cards? If you answered “yes” to any of the above questions, what you probably need is a change of language-learning scenery! Languages are meant to be learned by interacting with people, not by memorizing words out of a textbook, so why not head right to the source and study a foreign language abroad?

Why Study Foreign Languages Abroad

No matter where you come from or what you plan on doing with your life, the ability to communicate with others is the most important skill one can possess. Without simple communication, no progress would ever be made. Studying a foreign language abroad takes this concept one step further, as students who choose to go abroad will not only learn the language, but they will also learn the culture and people that surround a specific language. The skills and global perspective gained from this type of experience will turn you into a competitive candidate for better jobs, a more well-rounded student, and a more conscious and responsible global citizen.

Studying a foreign language in a classroom filled with people just like you is one of the most boring and unproductive ways to learn a new language. You can sit in a Spanish class all day long staring at a whiteboard covered in ser versus estar rules, or you can head to a different country and learn these rules simply by talking with locals. Studying a foreign language abroad is the only way to truly learn a language, so if you are going put the time in, why not do it the right (and fun) way?


The best place to start when choosing a location to study a foreign language abroad in is to first decide which language you want to learn; then choosing which country can best support the specific dialect and finally honing in on a city within that country, will be a piece of cake. Many students make the unfortunate error of automatically thinking that the best and only place to learn French in France, while you can actually study French in anywhere from Haiti to Canada to Madagascar. Oftentimes, by selecting a less obvious place to study a foreign language abroad, you will have a much richer cultural experience and ultimately learn the language better.

The most popular languages to study abroad include Spanish, Mandarin, French, and Arabic, so naturally the most popular locations to study foreign languages abroad include Madrid, Beijing, Paris, and Cairo. The benefit of being in a large city is that students will have the opportunity to be exposed to all types of people and languages, and ultimately obtain a very global experience.  

If after these considerations you are still struggling to narrow down your search to one location, think about what you are looking to gain besides just language skills. How do you ultimately want to use the language you will be studying for? If you are a musician and want to learn German to better understand your sheet music, pick a city like Vienna, which has a bustling music scene, so the German you learn will not be out of context for your goals. There is nothing worse than going abroad to learn a foreign language and then coming home and forgetting the language within six months because you are not using it in the way you thought you would.

Courses & Programs

There are many routes you can take to studying a foreign language abroad, and fortunately there is no right or wrong way (except, of course, by studying in a country that only speaks your native language). Once you have selected the language and region you want to become immersed in, think about the academic setting that will be best for you to really strengthen your language skills.

The most popular option for language study abroad is at a university. In today’s society, there are thousands of programs all over the world that enroll students in a large university with a great reputation and options for all levels of language learners, so finding a fitting university setting for you will not be challenging. While each university is different, most offer the same basic structure, types of classes, and support services. Whether you’re enrolling in only grammar-intensive courses or a mixture of subjects, students will integrate quickly into their universities and have plenty of options.

The university setting is not for everyone, which is why private language schools have also gained a lot of popularity. This type of environment usually focuses on creating fluency as quickly as possible, but many also offer a much more flexible schedule for students than a typical university. Language schools frequently include cultural excursions and other activities to ensure students receive a well-rounded education.

Regardless of the academic setting, there are many courses that language students can take that are not your standard Italian Grammar 101. Region-specific history or literature courses, such as a Jorge Luis Borges poetry class if you are studying Spanish in Argentina, are a great way to learn more about a foreign language as well as about an important author, piece of work, or event for that specific culture. Challenge yourself to take classes that are outside of the language study “box” and will make you learn about your host culture and history. As long as the course is being taught primarily in the language you are trying to learn, you will still become more fluent in the language, regardless of the subject matter.

Benefits & Challenges

Tangible Skills. If you were an employer and had the option to hire one person who could do the job of two, wouldn’t you hire that person? Having a transferable skill like being multilingual is one of the best ways you can ensure a stable future for yourself, as well as form much more meaningful connections with customers, partners, and co-workers. 

Multilingual Understanding. Before you shout “duh!” at the screen, there is way more to learning a new language than just being able to speak two languages. By studying a foreign language abroad, you will not only learn a foreign language, but you will also learn more about your native language. You will be strengthening all of your language skills, including verbal and written skills. As the very wise Goethe once said, “Those who know nothing of foreign languages know nothing of their own.”

Studying a foreign language abroad is not easy. Anyone can memorize vocabulary on a flashcard in preparation for a test, but it takes a whole different type of person to be able to understand what someone is saying, remember the proper vocab and grammar, put that vocab and grammar into the proper context, and reply back, all on the spot and in a timely manner. The challenges of learning a language in a real-world setting will force you to really have to interpret and remember the language, so you obtain a much fuller understanding and ultimately create more concrete skills. Study a foreign language abroad and learn how to truly communicate with others!

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A Guide To
Studying Foreign Languages Abroad


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