A Quick Guide To Learning A Language Abroad

Conversation is crucial for language development and mastery – the importance of conversation is something that those studying child development have known for years but it’s something that learners of second languages often forget.

Even those who are looking to immerse themselves in a language and have opted to learn German in Germany, for example, often fail to take advantage of the many opportunities to talk to locals that exist outside the classroom.

Here is a guide to getting out there, making the most of your travels and speaking to the locals so you too can talk like a local.

Don’t Be Shy

The best way to perfect your language skills is by using them, so try and overcome your inhibitions and start conversations with locals when you travel – you will not only pick up new words and phrases but also invaluable listening skills and many new friends.

Here are some useful tips to help you start conversations and keep them flowing smoothly:

  • Don’t be afraid – ask people to speak slowly and clearly.

  • Always seek clarification if you do not understand – rephrase what you have heard to make sure you have understood correctly.

  • Carry a pen – a picture speaks a thousand words and you can ask for words you do not understand to be written down.

  • Learn to look out for the non-verbal communication – and use exaggerated actions yourself if you’re struggling to find the right word.

Take A Chance

Whether you’re learning a language in Berlin, London, Tokyo or Rome there are plenty of great ways to ensure you take advantage of as many opportunities as possible.

Of course, if English is your first language just getting people to stop speaking to you in English is the first barrier to overcome.

Here are some tips to achieve this:

  • Get off the tourist trail – you will find people are more comfortable speaking just the local language away from the tourist sites.

  • Just ask – explain you want to learn their language and would be happier if you used it as much as possible.

  • Avoid always reverting to English if you get stuck – use gestures, drawings or similar words to prompt your partner to supply the right one.

  • Be expressive – if you feel your speech is slow you can retain a listener’s interest through changes in your tone of voice and the use of your face, hands, arms and body.

  • Be fair – if people wish to practice their English suggest having some conversations in their language and then some in English.

Taking a language course abroad with an organisation like ESL – Language Travel is a great way to travel and learn a language.

However, here are some other ways you can ensure you get those conversations started and meet locals abroad:

  • Couchsurfing is a great site for looking for and arranging meet-ups with locals who will gladly show you around and provide conversational partners.

  • The Ghetto Gourmet (theghet.com) lists places all over the world where strangers get together and eat dinner at someone’s home.

  • Meetup.com is another great site for meeting locals with an interest or hobby that you share.

  • Finally the Travel Blog Exchange (travelblogexchange.com) lists travel bloggers from all over the world who are exactly the sort of people who could show other travellers around and share some conversations along the way.

The successful language learner needs to lose their reservations and start making those conversations.

(photo credit: 1 – 2 – 3)

8 Responses to A Quick Guide To Learning A Language Abroad

  1. Dana April 11, 2013 at 12:45 pm #

    Love your information and Blog. I ask you to please add a Pinterest button for follow and sharing. Also do you have an Instagram account? Thanks for all the great travel information.

  2. nicole | the wondernuts April 12, 2013 at 3:28 am #

    I would agree with not being afraid to speak. Some people are kind enough to help you if you try.

    I learned French before we went to France. Didn’t help though, as most of the people I talked to knew English. But, bless their hearts for hanging in there while I butchered their language. Now, my french is much better.

    I’m also learning German and I don’t want to toot a company’s horn, but Pimsleur really helped. It also helped me brush up on my Spanish. =)

    My husband knows Mandarin and Taiwanese and can read Japanese. So, we’re good in Asian countries. =)

    One thing I have to say is freaking annoying: When we went to Taiwan, there were a group of teenagers on the train and one of them was staring directly at me while I was having a private english convo with my husband. I was like, “I know you’re learning English, but staring at me talking is making me uncomfortable.” Furthermore, some of the convos the hubby and I have are inane. I don’t know how could she translate: “that stinky tofu smelled like a fart, a big, stinky fart” if she hasn’t learned the word for “fart” yet.

  3. Alli April 12, 2013 at 11:56 pm #

    One of the biggest obstacles for me when learning a new language is having the courage to actually speak it to those who use it as a first language. It can be quite intimidating. However as you said, it is one of the best ways to get better and usually a surprisingly fun experience. Cheers.

  4. HomeTownTravelGuides.com April 12, 2013 at 9:32 pm #

    I agree with you, just put yourself out there! Once you get over the fact that you aren’t going to be speaking perfectly, it’s easy to just start conversing with strangers. People are usually very receptive if you are attempting to talk to them in their native language.

  5. Becky Padmore April 13, 2013 at 3:36 pm #

    I think fear of getting a word wrong always holds me back, but I think it’s better to make a bit of an effort than to not try at all.

  6. Cez April 16, 2013 at 10:00 am #

    Getting out of your comfort zone and speaking to people around in a foreign language is the key. I remember when I first got out of my comfort zone (learning English). I called Driving School instructor to book a lesson. Then, I had 10 hours learning both how to drive and how to communicate in English at the same time.

    Of course, it’s much easier to learn a language other than English in countries where it is not a language many people speak – like China. Few months in here (that’s where I am now) and you have to speak basic Chinese.

    Thanks for a good article.

  7. Chrissie April 18, 2013 at 3:26 pm #

    There’s nothing like being in the country to learn a language, even if it’s just to get used to the different ‘tune’ of the language and intonations. The language also seems to creep in more gradually and naturally, with the foreign words being adopted, then phrases then eventually stretching to sentences – and often without any nerves attached because they’re so familiar by that stage rather than a jumbled up selection from a language text book.

    For anyone learning languages outside the country I’ve found the Michel Thomas apps have been the easiest way to pick up the basics but feel comfortable speaking the new language right from the word go.

  8. Nigel Clifford May 3, 2013 at 12:27 pm #

    Some great advice here!