You’ve been wondering if you’re wasting your time in your language course.
You’re thinking of ditching your language class and go to the country so that you can actually learn the language.
Well…I’m here to tell you: STOP! Read on before making any decision!
Many people think that learning a language, truly and completely, can only happen in the country where the language is spoken. This assumption is true to some extent, however it can create some dangerous generalisations.
I have some good and bad news: every language learner should go to the country where the language is spoken in order to get their language skills to the next level, however *just* going to the country with zero knowledge of the language, not only could it slow down your learning process but it could also bring your confidence level down.
Here’s a real life story (of me being a stuck up!) to explain what I mean.
When I was studying English at university I joined the Erasmus exchange programme for six months to go to England. Over those six months, I was able to bring my language skills to the next level because:
- I turned on my go-getter mode: I hang around only with English students and students of other nationalities so that I could speak English all the time. I joined university societies. I taught Italian to English students. I volunteered in sporadic projects, including painting a school wall for charity, designing logos for shows, and can’t-rememeber-what-else … in other words, I was actively looking for opportunties to practise the language.
- I turned into an Italian stuck-up. I avoided -the kind of ‘you’ve-got-the-plague’ avoiding, all Italian groups, meet-up or any place that looked like having far too many Italians -and Italian language.
Despite this didn’t make me the most popular girl among my conationals, I was very happy as I was able to really practice my English and bring it to a much higher level by the end of the exchange -and make friends from all around the world.
But here’s the thing: I was able to do this because I had already an intermediate level of English. I was prepared for the experience -although at the very beginning… OMG! How difficult was to understand them!
The experience of some my other Italian fellows was not quite the same: they had come to England with a very poor level of English. Consequently, they found it far too challenging to integrate into the foreign environment and, after the first weeks of trying, they gave up and ended up hanging around with Italian people only. Needless to say, their language level didn’t go up much.
This experience can ring a bell in the mind of those students who enthusiastically sign up for a language course in the country where the language is spoken, go there with zero or near-to-zero knowledge of the language and realise that they don’t make as much progress as they expected.
Disappointingly, they actually find themselves making the same progress as if they were taking the language course in their home country (but spending far more money!). The truth is that when you are a beginner or you’ve just started to learn a language from scratch, you find it difficult to really get the most out of the foreign speaking environment around you.
Metaphorically speaking, it’s like giving a book to a five years old who doesn’t know how to read and expect her to understand the story. It ain’t happening!
She could understand it, though, if she learned how to read first. Then, she’d also be able to expand her vocabulary too whilst reading the book and develop her reading skills. But she needs the basics first.
You need the basics of the language first.
Ideally, it’s better to get to an intermediate level before going to the country for an extended period to time in order to make the most out of it. If you’re going there for a short trip, a basic level would do too. In this way, you’d really be able to take advantage of the foreign speaking environment around you and bring your language skills to the next level.
On a side note, I’ve also met people who have never been to the country for an extended period of time, and they were able to speak the language fluently. One of my colleguaes in school was like this. She spoke extremely good italian and she had never spent in Italy more than two or three weeks.
Her secret? Hard work and consistency. She was able to recreate around her a “fake” Italian speaking envornment, by listening to podcasts, radio, watching films, reading Italian books, practising her speaking with a language partner… you can do the same too, if you really want to learn!
The bottom line is this: although it’s essential to go to the country where the language is spoken, it’s not the right choice if you’re just starting to learn the language from scratch.
Going to the country hoping to learn the language without having acquired any basic knowledge first, can eventually lead to disappointing results, slow down your learning process and also damage your confidence.
Better learn the basics before setting off, bearing in mind that you’re the one who needs to be proactive and take advantage of the opportunities presented to you
-aka, stay away from people who speak your native language and use some of these tips to practise the language you love.
Now, what about you? Have you ever been abroad to learn the language you love? What was your experience like? Let me know in the comments below.
I can’t wait to read them.
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