Starting a new life overseas is an exciting prospect. You’ll be part of a new community, a new culture and perhaps even embarking on a new career. There’s only one problem – you don’t speak the language. Without that key piece, it can be difficult to form connections, make new friends, or even order a coffee.
While it will certainly be a challenge, you may find that not fully knowing the language may open the door to new interactions that you otherwise wouldn’t have had. Typically, people are very understanding and patient with newcomers who are putting the effort in to speak the local language, and they will try their best to help you improve.
This is why immersion is such a successful language learning strategy – if you can associate language with an experience, it will be a lot more effective.
Below are some tips to help you make a smoother transition after an international move. But the thing to remember throughout all of this is to be kind to yourself, and not be afraid to make mistakes.
There are plenty of places you can go to start learning a language, and one of the best places might be with other people who are also learning. Find other expats who can offer support both in practicing your new language and exploring your new city.
There are places, like the website MeetUp, where you can find an expat community to take you in and help you make new connections in your city.
Technology has made it easier than ever to get around overseas. Begin with free online apps like Duolingo to learn important phrases phonetically and visually. Depending on how you best retain information, you may want to hit up a thrift store to find a used travel phrasebook in your new language. Whatever method you choose, focus first on the words and phrases that you’ll need to use to get around in your new city.
There are some great apps available for Android and Apple phones to use if you find yourself in a pinch and facing a serious language barrier. Remember, translation apps are not 100% accurate, so they should not be relied on exclusively when overseas.
No matter where you are, chit chat will be expected of you. To get a feel for the language and phrases you’ll need to navigate your new region, put together some canned responses to common questions. That way, you’ll be more comfortable in day-to-day conversation. Think of simple responses to everyday questions such as, “what would you like to drink?” or even just, “how are you?”
As you practice using this every day back and forth, you’ll develop a more natural fluency as time goes on, new vocabulary or nuances, and pronunciation.
With how connected the world is today, there’s almost no avoiding foreign or overseas culture. While you’re embedded in a new country, take advantage of being part of what’s going on. Listen to a new TV show or the news in order to get used to being surrounded by the language and to learn new lingo or phrases. Buy magazines or newspapers in that language to peruse. Slowly, you will begin putting the words you hear with the ones you’re seeing together, making you stronger overall in fluency.
It can also help you to take in movies and television shows with or without subtitles. If you choose a familiar title, it will help you follow along and put phrases together with their meaning.
If your reason for moving internationally is to work overseas, chances are you’ll have access to a substantial community of co-workers who may speak English. This group can certainly help you, but don’t forget to branch out and speak with every day strangers. Meet new neighbors, shop owners and other people you’ll run into doing errands. Don’t worry about getting the language correct. In most communities, people will simply appreciate your effort to speak in the local dialect.
It’s impossible to become fluent in a new language right away. Likely, it will take a few years to become fully comfortable. Set your expectations there and understand that part of the experience of moving internationally is the opportunity to meet this challenge.
Take it slow and expect people to be patient with you. You’ll be surprised at how forgiving and supportive most people are when you make a sincere effort. When you know you’ve made an error, simply jot down the correction and practice a little so you get it right.
Moving is a gateway to a new lifestyle and exposure to different kinds of people. To make the most of this experience, jump right in with a new language. It’s easier than you think, and generations of travelers before you have paved the way. Take your time, stay willing to learn and, most of all, have fun while you’re developing a new skill you’ll use for years to come.
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