Tips on how to learn a new language

Expat life: 6 useful tips on how to learn a new language

Moving abroad may be overwhelming, especially If you don’t speak the language. Luckily for you, I have already gone through this, twice! Thanks to my experience, I now share with you the most effective tips on how to learn a new language as an expat. In less than 4 months, the exact way I did it.

If I have made it you can make it to! Let’s see how:

1. Keep a journal

This is the first, mandatory step to learning a new language. It doesn’t only help your learning of the written language, but it also gives you instant access to all the weak points you will need to regularly go back to. Furthermore, it will help you see your progress and stay motivated.

Which type of journal should you choose?

A compact and preferably small format one. When I decided to learn Russian, I choose a classic A4 format. But that wasn’t the best choice as I quickly learned. The fact is you will need to be able to carry your notebook/journal easily with you so that you can check your notes right away.

The best format for me is 6″x8″ (15cm x 20cm), compact and yet large enough while training on the Cyrillic alphabet, or any language you want to learn.

Whichever journal you will choose, always bring it with you!

2. Watch movies or series

After all, there is no funnier way to learn a new language than watching movies! Another silver lining? If you choose representative movies, you get to know the culture of your new country and picture their lifestyle and landscapes. Although for using this method effectively, you should respect the following rules:

Start with cartoons and animated films.

The wording is easier and the words are well-spelled. Also, the plot shouldn’t be difficult to understand, which will let you focus on understanding the words and phrases.

Get to know your plot (unless it is a crime movie!)

This goes with the previous point. If you know the movie’s plot you will be able to concentrate more on the phrases and words. Also, you will be more prepared for the vocabulary.

Use ONLY subtitles that match the movie’s language

Surprisingly, it’s one of the most common mistakes people do when watching subtitled movies. If you choose your language subtitles, it will be quite difficult for you to listen to the words and read the text. Instead, If you will read the phrase at the same time you hear it, you will also work on the word’s pronunciation and language sounds.

Take notes

Remember your language journal? Use it while watching movies to taking notes about words that captured your attention or even entire phrases. But most importantly you should use it to note the phonetic also. Especially if it’s an animated film, the language will be clearer for kids. So If you hear a word the sound of which surprises you note it!

Have breaks

Learning a language it’s not a sprint. That’s why you should have breaks also while watching movies. Your brain is not a computer, you should give it the time to process all the information. This highly depends on your level, but consider pausing regularly every 20-30 minutes for beginners.

3. Dive into books, magazines, or blogs!

After a lot of traveling I had a period of stopping, due to the pandemic and becoming a mom also. So how have I trained myself during these period? It’s really simple actually, I’ve read books. And watched a new series episode every night (but that goes with the point above).

Reading is the easier way to learn a new language and enrich your vocabulary at the same time. You go at your pace, stop whenever you want, and take notes. The extra? If you choose the right book, you may find out more about people’s lifestyles and new places.

Are you trying to learn French?

Check out two of my favorite books: “Les trois mousquetaires” by Alexandre Dumas the son, or “Le Comte de Monte Cristo” by Alexandre Dumas father, available both for Kindle and paperback.

More into Italian? These are your go-to

If you are more into crime stories, Andrea Camilleri’s “La forma dell’acqua” is perfect for you. Otherwise, I highly recommend from my favorite Italian author Italo Calvino “Il barone rampante” (currently free on amazon for Kindle).

4. Turn up the radio and learn with songs

Another enjoyable and efficient way to practice a new language is through songs. Make your YouTube playlist and go search for the lyrics. Once you are accustomed to the new song you can even try to sing along with the singer, to practice your way to talk.

My pro tip: Whenever I find a song I really like I love to write the lyrics down in my journal and doodle it. It also helps me to think about the deep meaning of the song.

5. Learn a new language by taking courses (online and in-person)

Of course, who can teach you the bases better than a teacher? And if you opt for an in-person course, you will also meet other people who are in the same situation as you, yay friends!

How to find the right course for you

Nowadays it’s almost impossible not to find a course that will help you learn a new language. Even a small city like Kourou has 3 different courses for foreigners who are willing to learn French.

You can Google it before moving to your new city or search on Facebook also. Once you take contact with them ask for all the information you need to know like schedules and costs. And don’t forget to ask them to register you. Sometimes courses like that have a long waiting list, you could wait even months! As soon as you have your ticket plane start searching.

If you are moving because of your job, your employer has probably already registered you for an intensive course. Don’t forget to ask them/negotiate, while arranging your arrival.

6. Listen and don’t be afraid to ask

It may be embarrassing for you at first, but don’t be afraid. People are always understanding and happy to help you, especially when they see you are making the effort to try to speak their language. So don’t be afraid, ask them to repeat, speak slower, spell, and correct you whenever you make mistakes.

Sometimes people are afraid to correct you, not to hurt your feelings. Plainly ask them. It’s one of the most important ways to be fluent in a language and correct all the little mistakes you make along the way.

To sum it up

Learning a new language is a marathon. It will take time and patience. But unlikely other people you will have the main advantage: you will be living in the country. That means willing or not you will be obliged to write, speak, and breathe the language. By living in a country most people learn the spoken language in 3 to 6 months. It may take more if the language has a different writing system. Just remember to be open and don’t be afraid to ask for help.

Are you planning on moving abroad in French Guiana? I have some interesting posts for you!

Have you liked this post? Pin it and share it with that friend who’s trying to learn Spanish.

12 thoughts on “Expat life: 6 useful tips on how to learn a new language”

  1. These are also useful tips for keeping up with languages once you are fluent, but not using them every day! I love watching movies/reading to keep hearing Japanese, as I never get to use it in daily life now I live in Canada…

  2. You gave so many ideas that I had not thought of before! I have been traveling for a while and am a little ashamed that I have not learned more languages! I will be trying these methods out for sure thank you!

  3. Every trip we vow to learn a new language. And far too many times we learn just the basics we need to survive. Using movies or books is a good way to force you to pay attention. And pick up the actual pronunciation. Some good points here to remember.

  4. Great tips. My husband is really good about picking up new languages and I probably rely on him too much as we travel internationally. At the very least, learning a few basic words and phrases such as hello, please, and thank you go a long way to helping you in a foreign country.

  5. Learning a new language can definitely be overwhelming! These tips are such a huge help. I definitely agree with watching a movie. I actually take Peloton classes in some of the languages I’m vaguely familiar with and love to see what I can pick up on!

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