Living abroad is one of the best ways to truly experience a different culture. It’s an amazing feeling to wake up in a new time zone and a completely different way of looking at the world right at your doorstep. When you move to a new country it can be a little frightening, and very intimidating–especially at first. However, after you learn the ropes and get adjusted to the differences, the experience takes on a completely new feel. When you move to another country everything is fresh and new. It feels great to learn and explore unfamiliar territory. However, the terrain is the only thing that should be completely new to you. In terms of knowing the language and having a preliminary sense of the culture–these are just expectations. It’s no easy feat to learn a language while living abroad. For more on learning a language check out some of our other blogs on the topic here. No matter where you go in the world, there are always friendly people who are willing to help you find what you need. For more on how to set yourself up for success in a new city read this post on developing a world-class network in a new city. Keep reading to learn about the best ways you to learn a language while living abroad.
Listen for phrases that get said in passing conversation throughout your day
A great way to learn a language while living abroad is to be keep a notebook or list on your cell phone of words that you aren’t familiar with.
Try to find an employee to ask at a local restaurant or department store
When restaurants or stores aren’t busy employees are being paid to make sure that you are finding everything you need. When it’s slow or there aren’t many other customers, it may be appropriate to ask a few questions about the language, or brush up on a few verb tenses. However, don’t abuse this privilege. While most employees are polite, they aren’t paid, tutors. This is a great technique for learning a phrase or two and having someone who is a native speaker correct your pronunciation.
Carry a pocket dictionary with you
This is one of the most important things that you can do because it will program you to listen for words you aren’t familiar with. Always wait until after your conversation to look up words–unless it is an emergency. You don’t want to spend five minutes thumbing through a dictionary when having a conversation about the weather.
Hire a tour guide or translator
While this is certainly the most expensive option, it’s also the best. Having someone with you 24/7 is a great way to get a feel for the culture and to really dive into the language.
Speak to the hotel/ hostel staff about friendly areas that speak your native tongue
Usually the staff on-hand are trained to work with people from multiple countries and have a process to assist them. However, you shouldn’t count on it in every country you visit. Before you leave to go on an adventure, make sure to ask the front desk if they have any recommendations for places that will speak your native tongue.
Join Facebook Groups, online forums or other virtual places
Where you can learn more about people living in your intended destination who are from your home country. More and more frequently groups of people all around the world are sharing their travel tips thanks to a boom in what is known as digital nomadism.
Practice with the bartender
It’s the best way to feel like you’re the one calling all the shots! 😉 Plus, you can lose your inhibitions over mispronouncing a word or two.
Look for Meetup groups
If you are new to a location or looking for new things to do meetup.com has organized meeting groups all around the world. Meetups occur at coffee shops, bars, and other public places every week for just about every passion, interest, hobby, or activity that you can think of. It is very likely that you can either find or start a local meetup group that is devoted to learning your chosen language.
Live with a host family
There are certain advantages to staying with locals. Whether it’s getting home-cooked cuisine, or learning the local slang it’s always great to meet other people in a new country, rather than journeying alone. Local host families may be free, but working out those arrangements is up to you. If you want paid accommodations that are guaranteed, try Airbnb or Homestay.
Find a friend who needs to learn your language
This is by far one of the most rewarding aspects of going to a new country: meeting new people and forming new relationships. When you form a friendship with someone who needs to learn your native tongue, you can bond at a deeper level, and help them, while they help you.
Language learning is a lifelong skill and ideally is something that happens before you visit a country. However, if you really want to go somewhere don’t let a lack of language knowledge stop you. Cut down the barrier by expressing yourself more kindly and make sure to smile a lot–at least until you get a better handle of what everyone else is saying. Most importantly, use your lack of knowledge to your advantage. In many cases, people will be willing to lend a helping hand, and who knows, it could become a fantastic way to make new friends.
Are you ready to learn a language while living abroad? Have you done so in the past? Share some tips with us in the comments!
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