How to Learn a Language Abroad

When I hear of someone desperate to learn a language, my advice is always the same: go to that country. There is no quicker or more effective way to get the grasp of a foreign tongue than by being completely surrounded by it in your everyday life.

Of course, learning a foreign language abroad comes with its downfalls, the primary being fear and awkwardness at complete miscomprehension. But trust me when I say that it is all worth it.

If you’re considering moving abroad to improve a language, or are currently abroad and completely freaking out, here are some tips to keep your head cool and full of new foreign words.

  1. Don’t feel ashamed or embarrassed by your (mis) understanding or (mis) pronounciation. Unfortunately, it is going to be a common occurrence, so letting it get to you is not going to do great for your confidence. Do your best and try to ignore the occasional rude glances or slights for not being fluent in their language – just wait until you are and you can surprise them by responding to their remarks.
  2. Remember that the main focus is communication. This is one of the best tips my host mum gave me: when you first arrive, ignore the rules, the sentence structure, and the fluency. Your first aim should simply be to communicate what you need, whether that’s saying hi to the neighbours, buying a bus ticket or asking for directions. Figure out how to get by in your everyday life, and once you’ve got that you can develop further.
  3. Be insistent. If you are English and living in a tourist area, chances are people will look at you and immediately speak English is they can. Don’t let them! Respond in their language, even if they can speak yours fluently. You should take every opportunity to practise – and you don’t want to be seen as another ignorant English / American tourist, right?
  4. Throw yourself into it. Not necessarily at the deep end –you might not want to attend a political debate in your first few weeks. But put yourself into situations where speaking the language is a must, when there are no excuses, and you will be on such a high when you get through them.
  5. It is incredibly tiring consistently speaking and listening in another language, but try to stay focused on every word: if you drift off just for a minute, it is even harder to catch up with the meaning. In a group, concentrate on one conversation and block out the other voices, because they will only overwhelm and confuse you, leading you to lose track of every conversation.
  6. Immerse yourself in the language as much as possible, but also give yourself some breaks from it to let your mind rest and recuperate. As I said, learning a language is mentally exhausting. Whether it’s having some time to yourself watching Netflix or reading a book, or finding some friends who speak your own language, find some time where you don’t need to translate anything.
  7. Make time to study. Although learning through practise is certainly the most effective way, unfortunately our brains are not robots that automatically record everything we hear. Take a note of new or interesting words so you can check them later, and take some time to study at least the basic grammar – trust me everything will make so much more sense after.
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