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Posted Oct. 9, 2014

Studying Abroad: Picking Up The Local Language

You arrive in your host country. You have some basic knowledge of the language, but are not fluent. The locals seem to speak at warp speed. You wonder: what are the quickest and most effective ways to learn a language?

Prepare Yourself Before you leave, familiarise yourself with commonly used idioms, and make it a habit to practice your grammar:
  • Verbs -You will find yourself using the present and future tense regularly, so make sure that you are well-versed in the conjugation of commonly used verbs before you arrive. A good framework will mean that you can use your vocabulary effectively and be more easily understood. The easiest way to remember a new word or verb is to form sentences to make them relevant to your own life.
  • Vocabulary - Learn the appropriate question forms required to get general information, and how to ask people about their interests. This will allow you to engage others more effectively in conversation. Learn the vocabulary required to discuss your passions, your life, and what interests you about your host country. If you have computer access, you can also use Skype, Italki, and Verbling to schedule language exchanges with people who want to speak your language.

Be Sociable In your host country, you may be tempted to cling to speakers of your native language. Although this may make you feel more secure, it will hinder your learning progress. Befriend local students. Join the university sports or social clubs. This will give you the dual benefit of doing something you enjoy and the opportunity to learn new, relevant vocabulary.

Put up a notice in the language department of your host university for a language exchange partner. You can spend 15 minutes speaking in your native language, and then swap. Bring along a short list of discussion topics to refer to in case you get stuck.

Always try to frequent places that maximise your language learning potential. For example, bar hopping can be fun, but cafes are better, as you can hear yourself and your companions more clearly. There are also language focused ‘meet up’ groups in most major cities. You can find these on sites such as If you are an introvert, you will have to make an effort to get out there and make new friends . It might seem a challenge - but it's worth it.

At Home Keep the radio on whilst doing everyday activities. You may not understand a word at first, but eventually your comprehension will improve. Television can also be a useful learning tool. See if you can follow a familiar programme or film without subtitles.

Be Bold If you want to master a foreign language, you must be brave. In order to achieve fluency you have to be willing to speak up and practice whenever you get the opportunity. Allow yourself to be clumsy and make mistakes. You may feel awkward at first, but you will be rewarded when you look back and realise how much progress you have made.

Studying abroad might be a challenge - but it's one with lots of benefits.

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