Posted on February 25, 2019 | By Alexa Randell
19th Feb 2019
Arriving in a new country can be daunting, especially when you don’t speak or understand the local language. Looking for a place to live, dealing with paperwork and visiting the local shops can suddenly become a challenging process. Fortunately, we’ve got some top tips to help you pick up the local language in your new home country!
Join a language school
This is perhaps the most obvious tip – especially since you’ll know all about these, being an EFL teacher! – but joining a language school will definitely help you learn the local language. In most major cities, you can find language schools that will provide you with lessons in the local language. Why not attend one of these schools and have a go at working your way up through the levels, just like your students do?
If you live in a location that’s popular for TEFL, you’ll probably find you have lots of choice of language schools, so finding one that suits your timetable needs, costs and level shouldn’t be a problem. You may even find that your employer is willing to contribute towards the cost of your lessons or they may provide classes themselves.
If you don’t fancy a classroom environment, why not search for a private tutor who could provide you with private classes at your home. This will cost significantly more but they’ll be able to cater exactly to your individual language needs.
Learn from your students
You may be wondering how do I learn the local language from my students? Well, working with children can certainly help you pick up new words and is a great way to improve your listening skills. Generally, young learners have no concept that you don’t understand what they’re saying and will babble to you freely in their own language, telling you all about their weekends, what someone else has said in class, and asking you ‘what does this word mean?’ in their language. Through this constant input from them, you can’t help but pick up some of the language!
Avoid the TEFL bubble
A ‘TEFL bubble’ is a community of expats that group together due to their mutual circumstances of living and working abroad. It’s very easy to become part of a TEFL bubble, especially when working in an English school where you’re in the same situation as lots of the other foreign teachers.
Don’t get us wrong, you can make some great friends as part of a TEFL bubble! It can be really comforting knowing people in a similar situation as you, away from their home country. However, in the TEFL world, people come and go every year and having to make new friends every year can be tiring – especially if you plan to stay in your new home country for a long time. Getting stuck in a TEFL bubble can also be a surefire way to miss out on practising the local language. We recommend getting to know locals as well as other foreigners – this way you’ll be surrounded by the local language and will have to start using it.
If you’re wondering how to make friends with local people, take a look at our next couple of ideas…
Join a conversation exchange community
There are lots of conversation exchange communities online that you can join. These are a great way to get to know the locals of your new country and to learn and practice the language. As part of these online communities, you can input where you live, the language you’re looking to practice, your age, hobbies and how you would like to have a language exchange – be it online, or face-to-face. You can then get chatting to people who have similar tastes and interests.
As an English teacher, you may find yourself flooded with requests to meet, especially in countries where learning English is popular. And if you’re lucky, you won’t just find someone to help you learn the local language, you’ll make a few good friends too! A popular website for setting up conversation exchanges is: www.conversationexchange.com
Go to a language exchange
Many language schools and universities arrange language exchanges around cities that are popular with visitors. There may be a mixture of nationalities attending but they are generally attended by local students learning English at nearby language schools. So, you should have no problem finding a willing partner to practice with. You’ll find many language exchange groups are advertised on Facebook, so have a search for what you are looking for and in what city and something should come up.
Create a language exchange
Can’t find a language exchange? Then create one! Working for a language school, you may find that your boss encourages you to organise social events for students and a language exchange certainly could be one of them. Creating a language exchange for students and advertising through the school’s Facebook page is both fun for the students and it draws other locals to join in. Just make sure you get to practise your language skills too – it can be easy to fall into ‘English teacher mode’ at these events!
Frequent the same places
This may sound a little bizarre but becoming a local yourself in a nearby bar or cafe can create more opportunities to practise the local language. Becoming a familiar face makes it easier for other patrons to approach you, and vice versa. Don’t expect it to happen overnight, but after a little while, others will begin to realise that you’re part of the furniture and start striking up conversations. And with a bit of Dutch courage inside you, you may find yourself picking up the language in no time!
Keep in touch with your adult students
Lots of EFL teachers keep in touch or become friends with their adult students, eventually meeting them regularly socially. This is a great way to practice the local language and you may find that your students are happy to correct any mistakes you may make, often wanting to help you learn their language just as you’ve helped them learn English! But before you go down this route, make sure your school doesn’t have any policies against meeting your students outside of work.
Get a language app
Nowadays, there are all sorts of language learning apps for your mobile phone, so why not download one and test your language ability daily. Some of the most popular ones include:
Memrise – various language learning resources, including 20,000 native speaker videos in different languages.
Duolingo – learn one of many languages on this free app, which offers languages for English speakers as well as for lots of other language speakers.
Anki – create your own flashcards to practise vocabulary that you’ve learnt.
Babbel – learn one of 14 language in detail for a monthly fee.
As well as language apps why not download a language learning podcast. One of our favourites is Radio Lingua, which has lots of different podcasts about learning different languages.
Use local media
Immersing yourself in the local media can improve your listening and reading skills immensely. All around you, you’ll have opportunities to practice, by reading the local newspapers, watching local TV, or listening to the local radio stations. Doing any of these on a daily basis will definitely help improve your language ability as well as helping you get up to speed on all the local news!
Last but not least – Get a local boyfriend or girlfriend!
Well, obviously we don’t expect you to go out of your way to find a local partner just to learn a language… but there’s no doubt that it does help improve your language skills. You may be surprised how many EFL teachers around the world end up dating a local person in their new-found country. (Or maybe, it shouldn’t be as surprising as it sounds, since you’ll have a lot more choice amongst the local community than the expat community!) Having a local boyfriend or girlfriend can definitely help you integrate into the local community and language more. And even if your partner’s English is better than your ability in their language, you still may find yourself having to impress their family and friends with a little bit of the language!