While it is not impossible to learn a language from home, the best and easiest way is by going to the country of your target language (see why you should learn the languages of countries you visit). If you have the opportunity to go to the country of the language you want to speak, whether you are there for a few weeks or a few years, you can definitely improve your language abilities vastly, particularly your speaking abilities. After all, you are in a place full of people who possess the skill you want!
Here’s how to make sure you make the most of your time abroad to learn a language.
Spend time with natives
Whether this be staying at a friend’s home, Couchsurfing, using airBnB or simply using apps to meet up with locals like toursbylocals or conversationexchange.com. Not only is this a great way to get to know the local traditions and culture, get off the beaten path and discover places tourists don’t know about. It is also, of course, an invaluable resource for you to learn a language well. If you are staying with locals, you will get the chance to listen to their day-to-day life happenings and conversation will be natural and real.
If you go to a country and are spending your time 100% with local people, there is no doubt your language abilities will improve. Unfortunately, it is very common for travellers to meet up with other expats or travellers, or travel with a group of people from their own country. This is not ideal if you want to learn a language.
Start conversations with locals
Think of every person around you as an opportunity. If you want a picture taken, go up and ask someone (not another traveller!) to take a picture for you. When you are in a shop, go and ask the shop assistant for what you need in their native language. When you are at the bus stop, spark up a conversation. Your conversations can be about anything that you know how to talk about. It may be about the next bus time, or the weather, or their shoes, or anything, really! There is no such thing as wasted time when you are out and about in a foreign country.
Normally eavesdropping is frowned-upon, but I say it’s necessary every now and then in the pursuit of foreign language success. Everywhere around you will hear people speaking in your target language, so this step is simple: listen to them. Try to hear not only what they say, but how they say it, what kind of words they use and how they form their sentences. Concentrating on what others say and copying it is a very effective way to learn a language.
Read the signs
Everywhere you go you will see signs in your target language. Whether it be billboards, road signs or labels at stores, you are sure to see lots of written language. Remember it is not all about the spoken language. Often, it is quite easy to guess or interpret what the written meanings are (for example, if you see a sign in front of the oranges at the supermarket, it is pretty easy to guess that the meaning is ‘oranges’). Of course, this task becomes harder when the written language has its own alphabet. But if you spend your time reading whatever you can, it is still super useful. It is a way to get more used to the local alphabet and start to interpret visual, as well as oral language queues.
Don’t resort to English
If English is your target language, of course this doesn’t apply. But otherwise, if you are in a foreign country you will probably find that it is not too difficult to come across people who speak English or are learning. It is very easy to just start speaking to them in English because it is easier for you. If your conversation is about something important and you don’t trust your abilities in your target language, that’s OK. Otherwise, you really have no excuse to be talking to people in English if you are trying to learn their language in their country.
Also, remember that there aren’t always English speakers available. Don’t expect to always be able to speak in English when things get too difficult. Of course, people often want to practise, and you might want to be nice and let them try, but not without setting boundaries and making sure they’re aware of your goal too!
- If you’re stuck with the first step of learning a new language, read how I learned a language fluently for some advice!
- The longer you spend immersed in another language, the more effectively you will learn it.
- Try to get out of touristic places and spend your time someplace more remote.
- Take any opportunity to practise and meet native people as much as possible.
- Don’t wait for people to approach you; be proactive.
- Accept the compliments you will inevitably get about your language abilities. But be open and willing to improve on your mistakes, too.
Do you learn the languages of the countries you visit? How do you make the most of your time there to practise? Let us know below if you have any other tips!~