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Learning The Language When You're Teaching Abroad

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If you are an anglophone teaching abroad, the odds are that you will be asked to teach English. This means you will probably be in a foreign-speaking country.

While you may have studied the language a bit in high school or college, that won't prepare you for real-life social interactions. And you may have never studied the language at all.

This shouldn't hold you back – plenty of people who teach abroad did not know the language when they arrived. But you should be prepared to learn it. This will make your life easier and give you a valuable life skill.

That said, some ways to learn a language are easier than others. Here are some tips to make communication in your new country as simple as possible to learn.

·      Watch shows you like back home on the local television stations. They will be dubbed in the local language. Because you are already familiar with the show, you'll have a general idea of what the people are trying to say. This will make decoding it easier. When you discover a new phrase, repeat it to yourself a few times.

·      Find language apps that make learning into a game. This is good for people who can learn better with a visual component.

·      Go to a language exchange event. These tend to be held in bookshops, cafes and bars. People who speak the local language show up and attempt to speak English. You then attempt to reply to them in the local language. You both correct each other. This helps you not only learn the language, but also make new friends.

·      Go see a children's movie in the local language. These tend to be simple, but also include the local slang. By trying to follow the plot, you will get a sense of what is being said and how younger people say it. Remember, many children's movies are designed to teach language skills to young people. They can help you in the same way!

·      Attempt to engage people in conversation when you are in cafes or bars. People love it when English speakers take an interest in their language, and are generally happy to help you learn how to say things.

·      Find a book you have previously read in English translated into the local language. Try to read it. When you don't understand something, look at your original copy and you'll learn a new phrase.

·      Hang out in public for a while and chill out. Just having the sounds of the language around you will allow some of it to leak into your brain through osmosis.

·      Date a local. This is probably the most effective way to learn the language. You'll be motivated to be able to communicate with them, and they will be motivated to help you learn.

·      If you are renting an apartment, try to get a local as a roommate. By communicating with them and their friends, your skills will improve.

·       If all else fails, sign up for a class in your area. This is the least fun way of learning a new language, but it can be a great supplement to other ways to pick up the local lingua franca.


cc InternationalEducators.com 2016

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  • 1 year later...

What you have posted are some great examples of learning.  For me, I have been living in Costa Rica, a Spanish speaking country for a year.  When I first arrived, I spoke 0 Spanish.  Now, I can semi-confidently say that I am conversational in my Spanish.  It has been a long road of learning and I still have much to learn but here are some things that I have found helpful:

1. Depending on your school situation, you may have locals working at your school.  Even if they speak English, choose to interact with them in their native language.  It is a safe atmosphere to learn because you are surrounded by people whose profession is to teach others!  Also, I have found it is easier for me to understand teachers when they speak Spanish because they are already naturally aware of their speed/clearness in their voice.

2. Listen to the local music.  Encourage your students to write down their favorite band that is sung in their native language.  This allows you to get to know what type of music your students are listening to.  Students usually are excited to help you learn their native language.  I have found it is a great way to find connection with your students.

3. Talk to your Uber driver!  Some of my best Spanish lessons have been with various Uber drivers.  You know that an Uber driver is likely willing to talk since they have a job as a driving service.  Also, I have found in Costa Rica that many people want to learn English.  This makes it a great opportunity for your driver to speak English to you while you respond in Spanish.

4. Spanishpod101 is a great website for learning Spanish.  You listen to many native speakers which is very helpful.

5.  Put post-it notes everywhere.  In your house, label everything with post-it note vocabulary.  That way you are always seeing the vocabulary around your house.  I am planning on starting to do it in my classroom as well!  I will have students quiz me once in a while on the vocabulary in my classroom.  It is a great way to connect.


This is what  I have found most helpful so far and hope that this information can be helpful to others :)  Also, any other tips would be greatly appreciated!

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  • 2 weeks later...
  1. Learn left, right, turn, stop, here, yes, and your address FIRST. Then you can go anywhere and always get home in a cab-- even when your phone dies. 
  2. Turn on Closed Captions on your TV! You'll pick up many basic words very quickly -- the colloquial way to say: okay!, yes!, yes?, no!, no?, wait!, and what?, which are said ALL of the time. 
  3. Learn the name of your country and state/ province/ area in the local language.
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Learn to say McDonalds, KFC, Pizza Hut-- not because you'll want to eat there*, but because everyone will want to tell you about how they are an example of globalism because they started in the country in which you are living. In three Asian countries, I've been told repeatedly that all three chains began in the area and expanded worldwide. I asked a driver "Why Kentucky in KFC?" and he said "To make Americans buy it."

* You may never, ever eat at KFC, McDonalds, or Pizza Hut when you are in your home country, but you'll probably find that you will as an expat teacher.


There is an element of nostalgia, but the main reason is that you will trust the vendor-- a Big Mac is pretty much the same everywhere, and sometimes you'll want safe, reliable, and predictable.

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  • 1 month later...

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