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Learning a Language Abroad: Pros, Cons, and How to Make it Work

There are two not-so-well-kept secrets of successfully learning a foreign language:

  1. Consistently practicing is essential, regardless of your chosen learning method.

  2. Nothing will help you become fluent more quickly than daily exposure and real-life conversation.

With this in mind, it’s no surprise that one of the more effective ways of learning a language is traveling abroad. In fact, a 2017 survey discovered that 90% of people feel that the most effective way of improving their language skills was through face-to-face interaction. Additionally, over 50% of the survey respondents said that the experience of learning abroad helped them become more confident in speaking their target language.

But the truth about learning a language abroad is that it’s far from simple. Even if you organize your trip with the help of a trustworthy language school, there are still plenty of details you’ll have to take care of before you can set off.

So, if you’re considering learning a language abroad, here are the pros and cons you need to be aware of, along with a few tips on how to make it work.

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The Pros: Why You Should Consider Learning a Language Abroad

Traveling abroad to improve your language skills is a great idea. In fact, there are so many pros to learning a language abroad that we’d recommend it to almost all learners.

Pro #1: Exposure

For one, spending time in a foreign country provides ample opportunity to expose and immerse yourself in a language. It will allow you to meet people who don’t speak English and with whom you can only communicate in your target language. More importantly, it will force you to practice your skills at every corner — from the moment you order your first cup of Joe at the local coffee shop to the taxi ride home after a fun night out.

Pro #2: Consistency

Another huge benefit of learning a language abroad is that it’s a superb opportunity to practice consistency. After all, being forced to speak your target language is a fun way to improve your speaking and listening skills. And chances are, you’ll work on your communication skills much more than if you were sitting at home — even if you’re one of those extra-dedicated people who can focus on studying for multiple hours every day.

Pro #3: Cultural Context

Still not convinced that traveling to improve your speaking and listening skills is a good idea? Well, consider this. Communicating with native speakers helps you better understand the cultural context of your target language. That’s because it allows you to learn some slang (and the appropriate way to use it). Moreover, as you discover what circumstances might have shaped the language you’re trying to learn, you can finally understand those tricky phrases that have been giving you a headache or discover more natural (and appropriate) ways to interact with native speakers.

Pro #4: New Experiences and Opportunities

Finally, as you explore the pros of going abroad to aid your language learning efforts, don’t forget that travel is a superb way to experience something new

Whether for you that means visiting a place you’ve never been to before, making new friends, discovering a new hobby, or getting an opportunity to further your education is irrelevant. What matters is that traveling abroad opens up your horizons and may even be the key to shaping your future. 

For example, a 2017 survey discovered that 47% of STEM majors who attended exchange programs focusing on a subject other than science received a job offer directly due to this experience. So, if you’ve been considering learning a language abroad as a career-building opportunity, rest assured that it’s an excellent way to invest in your future.

The Cons: What Makes Learning a Language Abroad Challenging

Even though you’re likely to gain a huge deal if you decide to go abroad to improve your language skills, you must understand that the undertaking might not always be a smooth-sailing experience.

Con #1: Language Lessons May Not Have Prepared You for Real-Life Conversations

One of the biggest cons of traveling abroad to expand your knowledge of a foreign language is that you might be unprepared.

Yes, practicing your language skills is a great way to do something worthwhile with your time. However, unless you’ve been following a well-thought-out study plan and been guided by dedicated tutors, it’s possible that you’re not ready to make it on your own in a foreign country. 

So, if you want to go abroad to perfect your conversational skills or pronunciation, it’s best to wait until you’re sufficiently fluent (at least at a B1 level). That way, you’ll ensure you’re in the sweet spot for acquiring new knowledge and won’t waste your time or money on an expensive yet fruitless trip.

Con #2: The Natives Want to Practice Their English

Another common challenge for learners going abroad to learn a language is that many natives will see interaction with you as an opportunity to practice their English.

On the one hand, this isn’t that bad of a situation. After all, it will allow you to make new friends and have a few unique experiences. But it will most definitely be detrimental to your learning objectives. Spending a month abroad only to find yourself speaking English won’t exactly check all the boxes in accomplishing your goals.

Con #3: Meeting New People Can Be Tough for Introverts

Finally, if you’re an introvert, you might find going somewhere completely new a bit daunting. Especially if you don’t have a structured plan for your trip.

If this is you, it might not be a bad idea to travel with a friend (as long as you’re committed to practicing your foreign language skills). Or, you might need to explore a language learning program for foreigners, which will allow you to meet fellow learners and make a few connections with like-minded people.

How to Make Language Learning Abroad Work for You

Now that you understand the pros and cons of learning a language abroad — and are still convinced that it’s a good choice for you — there are a few tips you can apply to guarantee you get the absolute most out of your experience.

  1. Plan Your Trip 

Knowing precisely where you’re going, how long you’re staying, and what you’ll be doing at your destination will positively affect your learning results. So don’t be hesitant to do a lot of research, enroll in a program, or even make some contacts ahead of time. 

Yes, it might mean you won’t be ready to take off in a couple of weeks. But it will allow you to get more out of your travel experience. You’ll be able to only focus on your learning goals at your destinations instead of having to spend time thinking about “now what?”

  1. Get Your Finances in Check 

The truth is, going overseas for a few weeks or months won’t be cheap. Especially if you don’t speak the language and can’t get a job while there. 

You’ll need to have your finances in order (with enough funds in your account for emergencies). Whether this means doing a side hustle as a remote digital worker or setting up a passive income stream by investing in stocks with good dividend yields is entirely up to you. But know that having a reliable income streak will be key to allowing you to spend your energy on learning instead of trying to get by.

  1. Make Sure You’ve Got a Solid Knowledge Base 

Finally, as you prepare for a unique and unforgettable language-learning experience, don’t forget to be diligent about practicing your skills. Yes, a bit of spontaneity will make your trip more interesting. But going to a foreign country and expecting to get by with just a couple of phrases is a recipe for disaster and could even put you in danger in some places. 

Final Thoughts

Learning a language abroad is an excellent idea — regardless of whether you’re doing it for fun, to further your education, or improve your future career prospects. But, like all things in life, it comes with challenges as well as benefits. 

So, to ensure you’re having a good time and actively working towards your goals, it must be an experience you prepare for. The pros and cons discussed above will help you better understand what to expect. But, if you want to guarantee that your trip results in gains and not just frustration, make sure that you follow the outlined tips and prepare for your adventure well before it’s time to board that plane.

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