You studied French for a semester and took full advantage of the 10 Free Ways to Learn a Language. You’ve finally arrived in Marseilles for your four-week vacation. Now what? Contrary to popular belief, it’s not easy to learn a language just by being in a country where it’s spoken. If you want your language skills to grow, you have to make an effort after you arrive.
Now that we’ve been in Argentina for three weeks I’ve seen an improvement in my Spanish, but it’s taken some work. I wish I had thought to search takelessons.com for a Spanish tutor to make this whole process easier. Here’s my learning a language strategy — I hope these tips will take you from timid beginner to confident pro.
9 Tips for Learning a Language in a Foreign Country
Talk with Locals While Learning a Language
Speak the language every chance you get. It can be intimidating, but most people will forgive a few grammatical errors and appreciate that you’re trying to learn their language. Volunteering can be a great way to engage native speakers in conversation.
When you send an email to book your next hostel, write it in your language of choice. You can even run it through a free translator to make sure there are no major errors.
Dig in Right Away
It’s easy to procrastinate once you arrive, telling yourself you just want to get acclimated before talking to anyone, or that you’ll feel more comfortable after you’ve taken a class or two. Don’t wait to start practicing your language skills. The sooner you put yourself out there and converse in the language, the more quickly your speaking and listening abilities will improve.
Read Local Newspapers, Magazines, and Books
Most cities offer at least one free publication, so pick one up when you see it. Hit up used bookstores and see what you can find — I usually stick to the juvenile section since my Spanish isn’t very advanced.
photo credit: Joe Shlabotnik
Carry a Dictionary With You
If you don’t know it, look it up. Carry a dictionary with you so you can look up any unfamiliar words you see or hear so you’ll know them next time. My pocket dictionary has been invaluable as I’ve traveled around Argentina trying to learning a language.
If something doesn’t make sense to you or isn’t clear, ask. Not only will you be more comfortable with what’s going on, but you’ll have a chance to practice your listening skills.
Remember, Cognates Are Your Friend
When you’re searching for a word mid-conversation and all else fails, try pronouncing the English (or French or German or other language you’re more familiar with) in the accent of the language you’re learning. You’ll be surprised how often this works. A word of warning though: be aware of false cognates. Although if you make the mistake of telling someone you’re embarazada (pregnant) when you’re embarrassed or excitado (sexually aroused) when you’re excited, it will probably be more funny than offensive.
Find a Language Buddy Makes learning a language more Enjoyable
Odds are, there are plenty of locals who’d be happy to meet up with you, especially if you’re fluent in English. And finding a language buddy abroad will likely be even easier learning a language than it is at home.
Study, Study, Study
There’s a lot to be said for learning via conversation, but it will definitely help if you’ve nailed down the grammar basics first. Don’t stop studying once you arrive. Pick up a simple grammar book, or take a language class.