Tips for Studying Abroad When You Don’t Know the Native Language

studying abroad in southeast asia

Studying abroad in another language may be an intimidating prospect, but it doesn’t have to be as daunting as it sounds. Research and anecdotal evidence have both demonstrated that foreign language immersion is the most effective way to gain fluency, so you can get up to speed fairly quickly during your study abroad trip. It may be a challenge at the beginning, but the following tips will help to ease the transition as you embark on your exciting journey.

Learn the Basics Beforehand

You don’t have to become fluent before you go (that will come with time), but you should take a little time beforehand to pick up some common conversational phrases that you are likely to need right away when you arrive in your new host country. The ability to convey biographical information about yourself will be useful so that people will understand that you’re a nonnative speaker and they need to be patient with you. Learn to ask the most important questions that you will need right away, and prepare yourself to answer the questions that people are most likely to ask you.

Practice Before and After You Arrive

Learning a new language is much like anything else in life: the more you practice at it, the more skilled you become. Before you even set foot on the plane to travel to a new country, seek out opportunities to practice using the language. Maybe your school has a foreign language club or your community hosts a bilingual bingo night. Whatever chances you can find to practice your new language, take advantage of them.

Don’t slack off on the practicing once you’ve arrived. If you’re an introverted person, it can be difficult to start up conversations with people, but if you don’t converse, you won’t learn the language. Step outside of your comfort zone by asking people questions. Not only will it help you to learn the language, but you will also learn valuable information about the local culture and community.

Make Friends With Locals and Ask Them Not To Speak English to You

Depending on where you choose to study, the locals themselves may be speak English as fluently as you do. If they see you struggling with the native language, they may decide to take pity on you and start speaking to you in English. While this impulse is kindly meant, it will be detrimental to your attempts to learn the language. If you explain to people that you are trying to learn the language and prefer that they not speak to you in English, they will likely understand and comply. After all, they know firsthand how difficult it is to learn another language.

Take Advantage of Technology

While a paper-bound dual-language dictionary can be helpful to you, it’s not the only option that you have. You can find and download foreign language apps to your smartphone that will save you time by looking up phrases almost instantaneously.

However, that’s not the only way that your smartphone or other device can help you. Change the language settings to display in the language that you are trying to learn, and you will be forced to use it every time you look at your phone.

Consume Your Favorite Media in the Other Language

Regardless of what you like to read, whether it be novels or magazines or biographies, read them in the language of your host country. Keep a daily journal in the language you are trying to learn. Watch familiar movies in the other language so you will concentrate on understanding the dialogue rather than following the plot.

Perhaps the medium that has the greatest potential to either enhance or derail your language immersion is music. Rather than listening to familiar American music, seek out music by the pop artists who are popular in other counties. Not only will you be learning the language, but you may find artists that you really enjoy and that you never would have discovered otherwise. Talking with others who enjoy the same music that you do will also help you to make new friends in your host country.

Learning a new language while studying abroad is a challenge and can be frustrating at times. The most important thing is not to give up. Most locals will be patient and understanding, helping you as best they can. With patience, dedication, and a sense of humor, you’ll be speaking fluently in a foreign language before you know it.

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