People decide to learn a second language for a number of reasons. Some students want to learn just for fun, perhaps for an upcoming vacation. Other students want to brush up on a language to “give them a leg up” when interviewing for a job. Some students are simply interested in another culture and its language. For many, a study abroad program is the opportunity that requires them to use their second language. As a Verbling English instructor, I’ve encountered students from all over the world, all with varying goals and interests. Working with these students reminds me of my experience teaching English to international students at a university in the United States. There, it was my job to advise students in making the most out of their time while studying abroad.
As someone who is now living in another country and studying another language, I now have to take my own advice. In doing so, I’ve narrowed down some of the most important and useful pieces of advice for making the most out of your language learning while studying abroad! For those of you working abroad, some of these suggestions can apply to you as well!
1. Use your resources
My first piece of advice is to take advantage of your resources, which for students means getting involved on campus. Making use of language learning opportunities at your new school is one great way to make sure you are doing all you can to advance your language learning! For example, ask if your campus offers conversation partner programs that allow you to have a language exchange with another student. This is a great way to meet new people, speak your first language, and get some one-on-one speaking practice in a comfortable environment.
2. Branch out
My next suggestion is one that some students find challenging. It’s no secret among many teachers, myself included, that while studying abroad, students who surround themselves with people who speak their second language usually advance more quickly than those who surround themselves only with those who speak their native language. Of course, there is nothing wrong with having friends from your home country who speak your first language, as it is very important to have people around you that make you feel comfortable! However, it’s also important to “branch out” while studying abroad, or you may feel you’ve delayed your language learning. Spending time with native speakers or other language learners can give you the opportunity to use more phrases that you may not learn in a traditional classroom setting. As I said, this can be challenging for some students, which brings me to my next recommendation.
3. Be fearless
Get out of your comfort zone! Let me tell you a little story about a student named John. John came from Italy, and decided to study abroad in the United States. When he arrived, he realized that almost no one on campus spoke Italian! John was nervous, but decided to attend some campus meet-ups and events to get to know his new home. That semester, John joined a sports team, went on campus trips, and attended as many events as his schedule would allow. By the end of the semester, he was able to speak English much more easily and made a few American friends! In my experience, I have seen this story play out more than once, complete with the positive results. While we might not all be as fearless as John, being open to new experiences can work wonders for language learning.
4. Get involved
My fourth piece of advice may require you to use all of the previously mentioned recommendations! When possible, getting involved in the community can be a great way to maximize your exposure to language and culture. Volunteering can help you to use your second language in some challenging environments while giving you the opportunity to help those in need! Many campuses have a community outreach organization that can give you information about volunteering and community events. Not only will you use your second language, you may learn a new skill or even have the opportunity to travel!
5. Feel like a fool
Finally, let me end this list with a piece of good advice I’ve received from a fellow second language learner: If you feel like a fool, you’re doing it right. In other words, during those times you feel like you’re struggling for the right word or phrase during a conversation, remember that in that moment you are learning how to communicate in another language, you are adapting to another culture, and you are learning life lessons that you will remember forever! Learning a language while studying abroad can be a challenge, but like many other challenges, it’s also a great opportunity.
Best of luck on your own language-learning journey!
About the author:
Roberta has been working in education since 2008. She earned her Masters degree in Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages in 2010 before working in an American university. As a Verbling instructor, she likes to challenge students to use what they’ve learned through customized lessons. She is currently living, working, and traveling in Europe while learning Italian.