Why a Year Abroad Isn’t Enough to Become Fluent

Taking the leap to move to the country where your target language is spoken can be an exciting segue in your language learning journey. In fact, a year abroad is often touted by teachers and professors as one of the best ways to perfect your skills, and as a result we language students put a lot of pressure on ourselves. We expect to return twelve months later having conquered the language and gained complete fluency, but is a year overseas really enough to do that? Read on to find out.

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What’s Stopping You

One of the big reasons why a year abroad doesn’t always equate fluency in whatever language you’re learning is that English has gained quite a bit of prominence all over the world. While this does make our lives easier when we visit nations where we don’t know anything of the local tongue, when we move overseas to pick up a new language, it can make our lives as students a lot harder! If you’re living in a huge city, this can be an even bigger problem. English is so global that in some cases you could probably go an entire day without having anyone speak to you in the local language.

The convenience factor also plays a huge role in whether or not you use your target language while living abroad. We’ve all been in those situations where we stumble over a word and the other person automatically jumps to speaking English just to make it easier. Or, if you’re hanging out with an international group of friends, you’ll speak the language that you all have in common which, let’s be honest, is probably English. We prefer rapid back and forth over the constant stopping and thinking of words that goes with learning a new language. Sometimes it’s just easier to speak English and, unfortunately, also easy to fall into the habit of using it as a crutch way more than we should.

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It’s not always the influence of others that makes us stumble as students learning a language abroad, a lot of times we are our own worst enemies. Think about it: after a day of classes and practicing your target language, you head home and veg out in front of the TV watching shows in English. Or you opt for reading a novel in English because you know you’ll enjoy it more in your native tongue. These little habits—writing in your journal in English, listening to English radio, or reading the news online in English—can all add up to huge stumbling blocks in your language learning process.

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What’s Pushing You

If you are moving overseas to immerse yourself in a new language, then follow through. Force yourself to use the language whether at school, work, or home. What are some of the ways you can do that? For starters, find someone else who is also learning the same language and have coffee with them once a week. Make a pledge that you will only speak to each other in the target tongue. Both of you will be less likely to become impatient with one another because you’re both in the same learning situation! Furthermore, you can pick up new vocabulary and rules of the language together, making it a beneficial (and fun) experience.

Another tip is to make sure you sign up for some good language classes. Invest in your education. Be willing to pay a little more to get an excellent tutor who will be able to help you succeed. If you’re on a tight budget and can’t afford a teacher or tutor, look for a language exchange partner. While you may not advance as quickly this way, you will still have the opportunity to practice with a native speaker who can give you tips on how to improve.

And finally, change all your electronic devices to your target language. It will take some getting used to, but will help you to acclimate better to a new tongue. Make sure your online settings are changed as well so that when you pull up Google News (or whatever sites you frequent) it automatically displays in the language you’re learning. By automating all this you’ll remove some of the temptation to opt for English when you should be studying up and working towards fluency!

What do you think are some of the best ways to approach language immersion when living abroad? What are some red flags you should avoid?