How to Learn a Foreign Language: Simplified

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Learning a foreign language

In theory, I’ve been learning Spanish, my first foreign language, for years – a year in high school, a year in college, and a couple times when I tried to learn the language in my free time and failed. So, of course, when I got news that I was officially moving to Spain, I thought “yes, I’m going to go to Spain and talk to all the Spaniards and learn all the Spanish and be completely fluent in the language by the time I come home!”

If you hadn’t guessed yet, that was wrong.

If you plan to spend some time in a foreign country learning a foreign language, great! Fantastic! You’ve made a wonderful decision! However, in order to use your time abroad to effectively learn a foreign language, there’s a strategy.

Do: take classes

Now, depending on your goals and your personality, you should, of course, address foreign language immersion in your own way. For example, if your goal is to teach this language, you’ll need some sort of certification, and this certification will require a specific skill set. You’ll probably need to attend a structured class, and learn how to make the best of the structure of the test you will be taking. It’s a good idea to attend language exchanges, whether social or one-on-one. If/when you find language exchange partners, you’ll likely find that they have similar goals: they want to go to school in your country, they need a job, etc.

If you’re thinking that you can take foreign language classes back home, you’re not wrong. However, believe me when I say that taking these foreign language classes while already surrounded by the language will increase your fluency tenfold.

Do: talk to your neighbors

If you just want to achieve conversational fluency, the best thing to do is talk. Talk to everyone. Depending on the culture you’ll be living in, the people around you will be more or less social – like, for example, the Spanish, who talk to everybody.

This may seem obvious, but let’s be real: it is entirely possible to survive in a foreign language with just a couple phrases. That’s exactly what I did for the first 4 months of my immersion!

And if you don’t have neighbors? There are ways! For example, my favorite way to learn to speak in a foreign language when I’m not immersed is Verbling. You can find a teacher for any language you could think of! Click here to learn more about my absolute favorite resource for learning a foreign language.

Don’t: spend time speaking your native language

When you travel to a foreign country for the purpose of learning a foreign language, remember to do just that. One of the biggest mistakes you can make is getting too involved in the expat community. While there’s nothing wrong with making friends, the temptation to spend your time with those who share your native language is a hard one to ignore. Even if you do spend time with these friends, however good your intentions, you will more often than not revert to your native language.

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