Language learning is challenging, but extremely rewarding and a great career booster for any aspiring international professional. One of the most common pieces of advice that we hear from students and young professionals who are returning from abroad is that they wish they'd spent more time learning the languages of their host countries before they left North America. Many also tell us they wish they'd spent more time actually speaking the host language while they were abroad.
If you're preparing to head abroad to study, work or volunteer, we recommend starting your language learning as early as possible. (Three months is ideal for a beginner. In this amount of time you'll easily be able to get a sense of the flow of your host langauge, and pick up key phrases and grammar rules.) Feel free to get creative in your pre-departure language learning: watch movies in your host language with sub-titles turned off, listen to the radio or podcasts, have coffee with a native speaker or start trying to write your diary in the language of your future host country. There's no wrong way to start using a new language!
And once you're abroad, be sure to venture outside the safety of your English-speaking expat community. English is one of the most widely spoken and understood languages around the world, and even outside your expat network, you may find that locals try to speak to you in English as a courtesy. But improving your language comprehension is about immersion, and the best way to improve is simply to dive in! Get comfortable with being the outsider and odn't be afraid of making mistakes! Trial and error is a fantastic way to learn any language.
Still worried that you're "not the language learning type" or that you won't understand grammar rules? Check out this inspiring TED talk from a young man who once worried that he'd never learn a foreign language:
And, if you're an ambitious language learner, you may find inspiration in this video, which gives a peek into the life of a young polyglot!
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