For expats heading to a non-English-speaking country, one question looms large: what's the fastest way to learn the local language?
While there aren't any shortcuts to becoming fluent overnight, there are definitely a few things you can do to pick up a new language just that little bit faster. Here are some of our top tips.
Back to school
First, an obvious one: taking classes is an essential part of learning a new language. Although they cost money and time, lessons allow you to study the language in a structured environment where you can ask questions – plus, you might make a few new friends to practice with. Language classes can be taken either before or after moving to your new country, or preferably both. Some countries even offer free language courses at the expense of the government so that foreigners can learn the local language and integrate more easily into the community.
It's no secret that learning a new language is a difficult task, and it can be all too easy to leave it behind in the classroom and not practice in your free time. Though going the extra mile may seem tedious, it's a sure way to begin integrating the language into your everyday life, even before you leave for your expat destination. Some ideas include putting post-it notes around your home and office with commonly used phrases, or getting into the habit of doing "round robins" with friends and family who are also learning the language. One way to do this would be to pick a category (like colours, sports or activities) and go around the circle with each person naming an example in the language.
Varying your language activities is also vital: Language is used in listening, speaking, reading and writing, so it's important to practise your mastery of each of these. This also keeps language learning from becoming boring. Read books, magazines, newspapers and blogs; watch television shows and films; listen to songs, podcasts and audiobooks. Changing the language on your computer, mobile telephone and social media is an effective way to keep yourself immersed in the language.
Practice with locals
One of the most compelling reasons to learn a country's language is to integrate better with its culture and people – and what better way to do that than to strike up a conversation with a local? In some places, this may be easier said than done, as expats often find that locals automatically switch to English when speaking with a foreigner. In this case, explain to them that you're learning the local language and would like to practise with them.
Embrace the fact that you will be making a lot of errors – this is a normal part of language learning. Create low-stakes situations where you will feel more comfortable making these mistakes. Don't be shy about not having the perfect accent or mispronouncing a word – rather, encourage the locals to help you improve on any mistakes.
Use a notebook or a note-taking app to create your own dictionary: Every time you encounter a new word or phrase, write it down. Later on, you can look up the spelling, pronunciation and definition. Then assign yourself that word to use in your next conversation! This process of taking ownership of your vocabulary is invaluable in getting you comfortable with new words.
Make use of technology
From language learning applications to podcasts, there are all sorts of ways you can use technology to help you learn a language. There's a wide variety of popular podcasts to choose from that focus on teaching a particular language. These can be listened to during your daily commute or while cooking dinner. You can also find audiobooks in the language you're learning – If the speech is too fast for you to follow, remember that most audio platforms allow you to slow down the playback.
Smartphone owners can also make use of the many language learning applications available. Many of these aim to make the learning process fun with a game-like interface, including different levels and achievements. There are also apps for connecting people who want to practise texting or speaking each other's languages – this is an effective way to create that low-stakes learning environment.