Learning a new language? Traveling to a country where it’s spoken can be a great way to kick-start the process. But of course, developing language skills in a foreign country requires some groundwork before you depart and a whole load of effort during a trip.
NB: This blog’s aimed at those who consider themselves at beginner level with their chosen language.
Learn a little before you go
Like anything new in life, getting started can be the hardest part of learning a new language. So go for it! Take a lesson…get a learn-at-home CD-ROM, buy a book or follow a podcast. Don’t be afraid to break the barrier that’s stopped you before.
Choose your destination carefully
It’s important to consider dialect (variations of accent, grammar and vocabulary). For example, Spain alone has varying dialects (just like this country, there are notable differences between the north and the south). But that’s just the half of it. There are strong differences in the dialects of Latin American countries too.
Consider who you want to communicate with. For many, a more ‘universal’ dialect that is better understood in a number of places is the most appropriate way to go.
Enroll in a course
If you’ve just starting out in a language, it’s worth enrolling in an intensive course (20-30 lessons a week) to help you through the beginner stage. The classroom might not be the most fun place ever, but it’s important not to pick up bad habits from the get-go. Plus, attending classes helps in the motivation department (especially important for those of us who fall on the procrastination sword). Look for classes that promise small classes or have one-on-one sessions built into the program.
To get the most out of learning a language abroad you have to put yourself in a situation where you are forced to use it. In short that means isolating yourself from English and spending your day listening, reading, writing and hopefully speaking your chosen language instead. Some ways to help yourself along would be to travel alone, arrange a home stay with a local family, absorb the local media, go shopping, ask directions, count money, watch TV and check out some local music.
Find a straight-talking friend or two
One of the biggest pitfalls of being immersed in a foreign language abroad is developing the mistaken belief that you’re speaking it error-free. A great way to iron out mistakes is to befriend some native speakers that you won’t feel embarrassed making mistakes in front of and who will point out your mistakes. A popular way is to find a language buddy – someone who will help you in exchange for your help with her/his English.
Write a journal in your chosen language
When learning a language it’s easy to focus on conversational fluency at the expense of reading and writing. Concentrating on all three at once, however, definitely helps in the short and long term. Writing an account of your experiences each day either on paper or in a blog is a nice way to revise what you’ve already learned.
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