5 Easy Tips For Learning a Foreign Language While Abroad


Everyone learns languages differently, and at different speeds.  After spending two plus years in Eastern Europe with several other TEFLing expats, I observed some that learned Russian well, and some not so well (or at all).  Those that actually learned the language and became comfortable speaking it had found at least one way to integrate themselves in their communities.  Here are my top 5 tips for learning a foreign language in-country.

Join a team, club, or place of worship. 

Hopefully this is the easiest tip to follow, as you should seek out something you are familiar with.  If you can play an instrument, a sport, knit, cook, were active in a place of worship back home, like to camp or hike, love animals, want to learn how to tie cool knots, know how to tie cool knots, want to do yoga or pilates or ballroom dancing–whatever it is, I guarantee your new town will have something for you.  A huge amount of language acquisition is achieved outside of the classroom, so keep your eyes, ears and twinkle-toes on the lookout for an opportunity to meet locals while demonstrating your adeptness or eagerness to learn.  This will undoubtedly lead to genuine friendships with likeminded people.

Befriend a non-native English speaking teacher.

In many places worldwide, a native-speaking English teacher is an anomaly.  If you teach at a school or university instead of a language institute, you are immediately part of a family of educators, but most TEFL teachers (naturally) integrate quickly into the English teaching department, but then stay there.  My recommendation is to befriend a teacher of any subject except English–this will give you a better understanding of your school, the education system in your new country, and more opportunities to SPEAK your new language instead of being spoken “at” by an English teacher that has been studying English for years.  Be sure to act as a resource for your English teaching colleagues, but mostly at school.  Your free time is your free time, so don’t be afraid to be a little selfish when it comes to your learning.  A non-English teaching colleague is also more likely to have about the same level of English as your level of the target language, so it’s a mutually beneficial scenario.

Buy eggs daily at the same place and time. 

Okay, not everyone loves eggs, but make a practice of stopping by the same store, kiosk or market every day at about the same time (preferably a less-traveled stop, and outside of peak selling hours).  Sales people often have extra time on their hands, and helping a foreigner bumble through a conversation will entertain them much more than their daily sudoku or crossword puzzle.  At minimum you’re giving them a story to share with their friends, and quite probably you two will soon become friendly acquaintances.

Date a national. 

If the opportunity presents itself, don’t be afraid to try dating a native citizen of your host country.  It’s always wise to proceed cautiously in the beginning of a new relationship, and that sense of caution should be noticeably heightened because you are immersed in a new language and culture.  Try getting to know a potential beau through group dates, activities in public places during the day, or at a common, communal event (NOT THROUGH YOUR SCHOOL!).  If there is a love connection, you’ve opened yourself up to a great new relationship, and weeks, months or even years of language lessons, all at no cost 🙂

Say ‘yes’ to everything…at least once. 

Many will argue it’s impossible to strip a culture of its language so this is a great policy to have for learning about language and culture.  Appreciate the fact that your host country’s culture is very different from where you come from.  They may not understand your country’s obsession with cars, hockey, or the tooth fairy, but I guarantee they have hobbies and customs that fulfill them in much the same way, so give them a legitimate try. Even if you don’t really enjoy the activity (for me it was gathering mushrooms), it’s still a great way to get to know people, and they’ll respect you more just for putting forth the effort.  If you really want to learn the language, avoid turning down an invitation, especially a first invitation.

Check out more tips on how to “break the English bubble” and learn the language of your host country.

This post was written by Matthew Clark.