In this blog post we’re going to look at the reasons why newcomers to a country (we use Spain as our example) fall short of fulfilling their language goals and we give some helpful tips on how to keep going and stay on track. We focus on two things stopping people from achieving their linguistic goals: language-learning fatigue or priority mismatch.
The start: so, you’ve decided to make the move abroad…
Deciding to move to another country, be it for work or just for a change, is a big deal in any person’s life. Whatever the reasons for the move, we often get quite excited about the change we’re going to make. The new people we will meet, the new foods we will try and the new culture we will do our best to integrate into. This often comes with the idea of learning to speak the local language.
Why wait until you land in Spain (our example country) to start learning? Here are some things you can do before you leave:
- Try a few language classes at your local night school or college
- Buy a language learning book to get to grips with the basics
- Watch an Almodovar film or two
- Visit your local tapas restaurant and try ordering in Spanish
Language-learning fatigue: it’s tiring and I’m not getting anywhere…
So, you got to your new country. You found your flat and started your new job or course. You even made some friends. Six months has gone by and you’ve only managed to learn the basics- ordering a beer, telling the taxi driver to take the next street on the left or asking where something is at the supermarket. A lot of the time, the locals just speak to you in English (of varying levels of quality), which can be disheartening and a big turn-off to trying.
You feel like you’ve hit a wall. You feel like you’ll never be able to discuss the intricacies of what goes into the local stew or even the events of last night’s football match. But don’t panic. If you are dedicated to your goal, you can achieve it. Language learning takes time. However, though it can take time to master a foreign language, there are noticeable milestones along the way.
The milestones can look something like this:
- Ordering a beer
- Giving a taxi driver directions
- Telling a group of locals about your last holiday
- Getting, changing or complaining about a utility contract
- Understanding a conversation about local politics/ culture
- Using colloquialisms, slang and street language during a conversation
Priority mismatch: with work, the kids, trips to the beach, I just don’t have time…
Three or four years down the line. You are very settled in your new life in Spain. You have a nice set of friends, mostly expats, but the odd local too. Your kids go to the local school (and probably speak the local language without even thinking twice about it). That language book you bought before leaving your country is dusty and hidden away somewhere. The three-week course you did on arrival (on a wave of good intentions) has sunk somewhere deep in your consciousness and what you did learn is ‘rusty’ to say the least.
On your list of priorities, learning the local language is still there- but it is so far down the list that you will probably never get round to tackling it. Life gets busy, priorities change, but the necessity and importance of learning the language of your new home never loses its importance and value. Aside from enriching your life, speaking a foreign language can be beneficial in your business or work life. Being able to speak coherently and with confidence with the locals can bring you an increased market and possible work advantages.
Obviously, with your busy life, you probably won’t be able to put everything aside and take a year’s fulltime language course. However, there are small actions you can do to increase your language knowledge. If it becomes part of your routine (like going to the gym, going jogging, recycling), you are more likely to progress.
Tips for keeping on track: ¡sí, quiero hablar español!
Speaking a foreign language is extremely satisfying. Keep telling yourself this and keep this in mind when you feel you’re not getting anywhere. If you really want to improve, there is little reason you can’t!
Here are some tips to keep on track with your language learning:
- Be realistic about your goal. Rome was not built in a day, nor was Latin learnt in a week! Becoming a confident and skilled speaker of a foreign language can take a long time
- Be active. You have the luxury of being in a place full of speakers of the language you’re learning. Get out there and mingle! Try attending meetups, conversation classes, evening classes for a hobby or new skill, sports groups
- Make it part of your everyday. The forty-minute trip to work on the bus or metro is wasted time. Use it wisely. Listen to a podcast (news, current affairs, history etc.) or the news. Alternatively, you can buy or download a newspaper or magazine. This will not only help your language learning, but you will also gain an increased knowledge of the local culture and context
- Mix language learning with your daily chores. Instead of seeing language learning as another thing to get done on an ever-growing list of chores, try and mix it with what you have to do. Gym classes in the local language, meeting with the bank manager with no English (here’s a tip: write a list of vocabulary and phrases you may need before you go to the bank)
- Get involved in the cultural life of your new home. Language learning can be a real hurdle for some people, especially when viewed as a dry, academic exercise. If you associate the language with a culture, a people and a way of living, you will see it come to life and jump off the page. Visit the theatre, go to the local neighbourhood parties, go to recitals of the local instrument!
Always remember though, learning a language can be a whole lot of fun. It can broaden your horizons and increase your knowledge and understanding of the wider world. It can also help in your integration into your new home. A Smile will get you far, a ‘gracias’ or a ‘come stai?’ will get you even further! Paralingo Language Consultants can help you achieve your language learning goals through one of our training courses. We are passionate about helping you communicate with confidence!
Contact us: firstname.lastname@example.org or www.paralingo.com