Written exclusively for Expat Network by Fluency Corp
Speaking the local language makes every aspect of adjusting to life in a new country easier. You’ll work more efficiently, navigate daily life more smoothly and, most importantly, start to form the meaningful connections with others that help you really feel at home.
But sometimes it feels like there’s an insurmountable gap between where your language skills are, and what you need them to be. While there’s no such thing as instant fluency, you can speed up your path to using your new language with ease and fully being a part of life in your new country.
1. Practice your new language with native speakers.
Having real conversations with native speakers might seem intimidating at first, but nothing does more to accelerate your language learning. You hear how the language is really spoken, and you pick up on slang and idioms. You can even watch others’ mouths when they talk, which helps you learn how to make sounds that your language might not have. So instead of practicing vocabulary words on your own, get out there and try your skills with native speakers. If you haven’t moved overseas yet, look for Meetup.com events where you can practice your new language with native speakers (who may be just as eager to try out their skills with your native language). Already relocated? Find a “language buddy” at work or in your neighborhood who’s willing to give you some all-important conversational practice.
2. Focus on the vocabulary you need: relevant and in context.
Let’s face it. Memorizing vocabulary lists in a new language just isn’t that inspiring, nor effective, if you don’t know what context to use them in. So how do you figure out what’s relevant and what’s not?
You’ll give yourself an extra dose of motivation if you focus your language learning on the vocabulary you’ll need on a day-to-day basis. We suggest watching movies or shows that are based in an office or about your particular job. Netflix! Psst: turn off the subtitles to train your ears. Remember, in real life, there are no subtitles.
Or reading books in your new language that talk about your job, leadership skills, or even stories about professionals. You’ll hear ‘work speak’ in the dialogues you read. Also, before your move, work your network to see if you can connect with other expats with similar jobs or experiences, who can shed some light on the language you really need to know for your work and your life overseas.
3. Have some fun. If you’re interested in it, you’ll do more of it.
The more incentives you have for picking up a new language, the faster you’ll learn. Language learning won’t just help you collaborate more smoothly at work or get what you need at the grocery store. It also opens the door to lots of fun stuff in the country where you’re living. While it’s tempting as an expat to stick with the music, shows, books, etc., you know from home when you want to entertain yourself, see what happens when you start paying attention to the media around you in your new country. What does that catchy song you always hear on the radio mean? What’s the plot of that movie you see advertised everywhere? Exploring new entertainment options not only encourages your language learning, it also helps you understand the culture of the country where you’re living. Which brings us to No. 4 on our list …
4. Learn culture, too.
Mastering a new language isn’t just about learning words, syntax and the local accent. In any country, myriad cultural factors also play into how people communicate. When you become aware of those factors, it’s easier to be understood, to understand others and to form meaningful connections. This is another reason that it’s helpful to tap the wisdom of other expats or to have a language buddy who’s a native speaker. Some common communication differences among cultures include eye contact, greetings, personal space and directness vs. indirectness. Try also Toast Masters to push yourself to speak in public, and make friends!
5. Lay the groundwork for success.
Of course, there’s a lot more going on during your international move than working on your language skills. A whole lot more! Becoming an expat involves enormous changes that tax your physical and mental energy. You’ll have an easier time learning a new language, and handling the other aspects of your international move, if you receive plenty of support. If your company is relocating you, take advantage of all the resources available to you, especially the settling in services. It’s easy to forget these settling in services when all you can think about is where the kids will go to school and how to buy a new home.
And if there’s something you need that’s not part of your relocation, ask. To get an idea of what other companies are offering, check out this survey by Altair Global, a global mobility services company. Cultivate your own personal support system, too. Make a plan for staying in touch with loved ones back home so that you don’t fall off their radar. This is especially important in the early days of your move before you’ve built a local support system.
As you start putting these tips into practice, you’ll feel more at ease using your new language. And that helps your new country start to feel like home!