Stop Searching for the Silver Bullet – Language Learning for Expats

Learning the local language when living abroad as an expat is one of the most important steps on our way to a fulfilled expat existence, says InterNations member Aaron. And if you follow Aaron’s tips for everyday language learners, it’s not nearly as daunting an undertaking as you may think…

Learning the language of the country we’ve moved to is one of the most impactful actions we can take to improve our experience as expats. Nothing so intimately affects daily life lived abroad quite like knowing – or not knowing – the local language.

Our comings and goings, our setting up of home and shopping for daily needs, the hope of friendship with nationals – all of these hinge on our learning the language and learning it well.

I have yet to meet anyone living abroad who would not hope to speak and understand the local language better than they presently do. And yet it seems there is little vision for making this hope a reality.

There are of course those polyglots among us who’ve mastered myriad languages, who dream in Chinese, write poetry in French and read Russian novels for fun.

But for the rest of us, for us everyday language learners, we find ourselves in need of some unknown piece to this linguistic puzzle which we hope, when found, will carry us forward to a longed-for place of mastery – or at least leave us better able to enter into the current of local life whose waters will only be plied by the rudder and sail of the local tongue.

If we wish to know those whose country we’ve settled in and in turn, be known by them, we must set our sails toward that distant shore across the sea called fluency.

And to do that we must sail not drift. We must make a plan and execute it. We must above all else, take control of our language learning journey.

There is no silver bullet for learning another language. I wish there were. There are however a great number of regular bullets which combined together can lead to a personal language learning program that will allow you to successfully learn another language on your own terms. Finding what works best for you, for your learning style and for the situation in which you find yourself is the key then to your success.

There are hundreds of methods, programs, resources and activities that will help you learn another language. Above these though are the attitudes and principles that lead to maximized language learning. Here are four ideas to get you started:

1. Stay in the Game. When I asked my wife what the most important factor was for continuing to improve as a speaker of the local language her reply was simple: Stay in the Game. Like any endeavor in life, we tend to lose focus over time. We begin to drift, to just let each day happen and soon find that weeks have gone by since we last did anything to achieve our goals. Language learning is no different and if we are to reach our language learning goals, we must continue to pay attention to putting in the time and effort to improve.

2. Do What You Love. One key to putting in the time is finding enjoyable activities and resources that you won’t tire of. Find activities that you love and do those in the target language. Do you love painting? Sign up for a painting class where only native speakers will be involved. Do you love to take photography? Join a photography club that doesn’t include other expats. Do you love watching movies? Find ten of your favorite movies dubbed in the local language and watch three or four a week.

3. Fill the Fridge. They say a dieter’s worst enemy is the refrigerator. But it doesn’t have to be. If the fridge were filled with only healthy, wholesome food, the cravings for a calorie laden snack would be null and void. If your only option is healthy food, it’s impossible to eat junk food. As a language learner, you too can change the home and work environment so that it conspires to help you succeed. Fill the movie drawer with target language movies, the bookshelf with target language books and the cd player with target language music. You will see and hear more of the language, not because you want to, but because it’s there. We all recognize that living in a country is not equivalent to immersion. Immersion is a choice you will need to make and a reality that you can create.

4. Hit it from All Sides. One sure way to improve your language is to begin to attack the language from all sides: reading, writing, listening and speaking. Find a favorite book and read it before you go to bed each night. Take fifteen to twenty minutes over lunch to journal about the happenings of your day – in the target language. Listen to podcasts, music, speeches or handcrafted audio on your daily commute. And of course spend some time every day talking with native speakers. It seems strange to encourage expats to speak the language each day, but I am certain most of us can relate to whole days that go by without a word spoken in the target language. One conversation every day – make it a minimum requirement.

Author and language educator Greg Thomson reminds us that, “if we ignore a whole bunch of problems, the hardest thing about language learning is getting started. The second hardest thing about learning another language is not quitting.”

We need not settle for just enough in our quest to master the local language. Find ways to do a little every day, to continue to move forward, to stay in the game and to not quit. Do this and you’ll soon see the shores of that distant land called fluency.

Thank you Aaron Myers for your contribution to the InterNations blog.

Aaron Myers is the author of a growing number of guides for language learners. These guides, his free Ten Week Journey course, and weekly articles on independent language learning can be found at his blog, The Everyday Language Learner. Aaron and his family live in Istanbul, Turkey.

All pictures courtesy of Wikimedia Commons. Attributions: Bob Rayner (2), Shane Global (3), Recent Runes (4)

4 Responses to “Stop Searching for the Silver Bullet – Language Learning for Expats”

  1. After reading this it put things in perspective….danke!

  2. You’re welcome! :) Glad you liked the article.

  3. Actually it’s great idea .. i got the lang prob when i moved to Turkey from 2 years … Kids and grand people help alot too .. Thx for the great article :)

  4. You’re welcome. Glad you found Aaron’s contribution helpful! :)

Leave a Reply