A Guide to Learning a Language by Living Abroad
Learning a second language is an incredibly valuable asset in our globalized society. Not only can it enhance career opportunities, it can open doors to new friendships, new skills, and a new way of life.
Many factors play into learning a second language, such as, your native language, home country, and cultural background. But everyone has the ability to learn another language, regardless of these factors or age. Learning a new language has many trials, but with diligence and the right resources, you’ll be on your way much sooner than you think to becoming fluent.
There is no one distinct way to learn a language. It is different for everyone but there are many commonalities to enhance these skills. Let’s explore some key steps to learning a language by living abroad.
Why move abroad to learn a language?
It is one of the most intimidating experiences to go to a country, even to visit, where you don’t speak the native language. It’s important to remain open-minded and flexible when approaching a new language since the language barrier will most likely be your biggest obstacle you face when living abroad.
Learning a language can be a long and extensive process, but you have the ability to make the most of it by moving to a country that speaks the language. Full, cultural immersion is the best way to get your new language skills going. When you have no choice but to communicate in the country’s native language, you adapt.
By moving abroad to learn a language, you will learn quicker, understand more dialects and slang terms, and you will become more culturally aware and empathetic to others in a similar situation. Don’t forget that a new language can lead the way for many more job opportunities, and who doesn’t want that?
Traveling abroad is one thing, but living abroad is another ball game. It’s thrilling, exciting, frustrating, and difficult at the same time.
If you’re looking to move to Europe check out our guide on the 17 easiest countries to move to (based on viable visa options). You’ll find over 50 visa options—and their requirements—including digital nomad visas, work visas, non-lucrative visas, student visas, investment visas and more so that you can move abroad! Make your dream of living in Europe long-term a reality! Grab your copy of I’m Outta Here! An American’s Ultimate Visa Guide to Living in Europe today!
11 Tips for learning a language abroad
1. Start learning before you set off
Let’s not dive into the deep end right away, this can lead to feeling isolated from the get go, and no one wants to feel like that! Before you depart, pick up basic vocabulary such as letters, numbers, time, and directions. Beginner vocabulary lessons are readily available on platforms like YouTube for free so take advantage of it. It’s best to come a little prepared with simple phrases to help you navigate.
2. Make use of language learning apps
There are numerous language apps to choose from to get started, such as Duolingo, Babel, and TripLingo. Most language learning apps have free subscription options that you can capitalize on and the best part is that you can do these at your own pace! It’s a great way to get in basic vocabulary practice for just 5-10 minutes a day in a fun way.
3. Live with a host family or native speakers for a period of time
Living with native speakers is a great way to completely submerge yourself into the language. You gain household and conversational vocabulary very quickly on a daily basis. Similar to the tip above, you could form it into a type of language exchange if your host family or flatmates want to practice their English.
4. Listen and observe
When you arrive it will feel like sensory overload, but don’t worry! Be prepared with your basic vocabulary and maybe a “I’m sorry I don’t speak ____, do you by chance speak English?” and listen to others around you. Notice how they interact, their tone of voice, and their mannerisms. You will be able to pick up on these more regularly each time and when it comes to you speaking to a native, you’ll be able to get the gist of what they are saying.
5. Practice at least a few minutes a day
Consistency is more important than quantity. Practicing in some way everyday is key! Whether you prefer to listen to music, read a news article, watch an episode of a Netflix series, getting exposure to the target language everyday is necessary. Start off simple and work your way up with however you feel comfortable.
6. Watch videos, TV shows, movies in the language even if you don’t fully understand it
We all watch some sort of TV shows, movies, and videos so let’s put them in your target language. It doesn’t matter if you don’t fully understand it, the same goes for the tip above; listen, watch, and observe both verbal communication and body language. This gives insight on how natives interact, their sense of humor, and slang terms.
If the actors speak quickly, put the subtitles in the language as it well to help you follow along better.
7. Take a weekly or bi-weekly language class
When you arrive, sign up for a beginner’s class! Having a native teacher is very important to nail down your pronunciation, vocabulary usage, and speaking format. You’ll also connect with others in the course who are probably in the same boat as you: just moved abroad, barely know the language, and are looking to make friends.
8. Change your mobile device (and any other electronics) settings to the target language
You’re already familiar with how your electronics work, so now it’s time to change the language setting! Since you already know how to navigate your devices, now with the language change you may pause, but you subconsciously already know what you need to do and how to navigate it.
You’ll quickly begin to associate a lot of new vocabulary with something you’re very familiar with already.
9. Write down new words you learn
Write down any new words you learn on the daily, whether it’s on your phone’s notes or in a notepad. A lot of new words will be thrown at you, especially in the beginning, and it’s easier to keep track of them if you write them down. Take a look at them before you go to bed and try to remember the context in which they were said.
10. Go to language exchanges/meetups
Especially if you’re in a larger city, language exchanges are everywhere! Language exchanges are great because they are free and you can meet new people from all over the world, not just from the country you’re in. It’s a great way to practice with native speakers in a comfortable environment with no pressure. Plus you may gain a friend and language practice partner for the foreseeable future
11. Be confident when you speak and don’t be afraid to make mistakes
Speaking is the most intimidating part of learning a new language. You’re afraid you’ll mess up, say something very wrong and you don’t want to be judged or pitied. That being said, when you do speak, speak with confidence and act like you know what you’re doing.
When you forget a word or a phrase, simply ask the person you’re speaking to, “Hey, tell me again, how do you say ___ ?”. They will be more than happy to help you out.
How long does it take to learn a language when living abroad?
One of the most common questions circulating around language learning is: “How long will it take me to learn another language?”
You’ll read about people who have learned a new language in 3 months, 6 months, 9 months, 2 years, etc. but the truth is, everyone is different. The answer is: It is completely up to you!
This depends on a lot of factors. It depends on how much you expose yourself to the language, how much you practice, and your motivation to progress. The more you expose yourself to it (but not become overwhelmed) the quicker and more likely you are to improve. Stay motivated and determined but refrain from overwhelming yourself and you’ll find success sooner than you think!
Learn a language by living abroad
There are numerous resources, free and paid, to help you on your second (or third or fourth) language journey. No matter which way your learning path goes and no matter how long it takes you, living abroad and being immersed in the target language is the best and quickest way to become fluent.
Learning a language by living abroad will open many doors in your life, both professionally and personally. You may find yourself face to face with an incredible job offer in your dream location or falling in love, all because you decided to take the leap to move abroad and learn something new.
“To have another language is to possess a second soul” -Charlamagne