The Language Learning Benefits of Studying Abroad

By Jonty Yamisha

Achieving Fluency in a Foreign Language Through Immersion

Educations.com conducted a recent survey revealing that when students sit down to choose where to study abroad, learning a new language is a huge factor. How influential? 31% of 33,000 students listed it as a top priority when choosing the country for their study abroad program. 

The numbers don’t lie. Of that 31%: 

  • 20% want to go abroad to take a language course specifically
  • 63% ranked language as their main decider for choosing the location
  • 47% of respondents have concerns about not knowing the local language of their study abroad destination
  • 37% fear not being able to speak the local language when they arrive

Studying abroad can be a great opportunity for you to experience a new life and culture. And understanding the local language can greatly enhance that experience. But don’t expect to show up in a country and start speaking the language. Knowing how to prepare can get you the most out of your study abroad program so you come back fluent in your target language. 

The Importance of Motivation in Language Learning

Learning a foreign language is not easy. Sure, there are things you can do to make it easier. However, at the end of the day, you’re still learning something new, and that will take patience, hard work and persistence. This is why focusing on your motivation is key

First, you need to pick a country and a language you want to learn. But, it’s not as easy as it sounds. You’ll need to start off with looking over the culture, the country, and the language itself. If you find yourself excited by it and curious, that’s a great sign. 

It can take between 500 – 1000 hours to reach fluency in a foreign language. At times you’ll feel proud of your progress. Other times, you’ll grow frustrated as you begin to forget what thought you already learned. Or worse, you may find yourself plateauing, unable to make real progress. Overcoming these obstacles means staying motivated. And focusing on why you wanted to learn the language in the first place is a great way to push forward in those difficult times.  

How Do I Choose a Country for My Study Abroad Program? 

Finding the right study abroad program can be challenging. Educations.com is an excellent resource that can make this process easier for you. They’re a search portal dedicated to helping over 3 million students every year find and compare study abroad programs around the world. 

Simply head over there and use their services to search for the study abroad program that works for you. Remember to choose one that you’re interested in to keep yourself motivated That’s because people reach fluency easier and faster when they’re motivated to learn.

Start Studying Before You Arrive

Once you decide on a study abroad program, you’ll want to use that motivation as inspiration for you to do the necessary prep work before you travel. That’s right. You’ll need to start studying before you travel. 

Putting language learning off until you arrive in-country can be an incredible shock. It can also put a huge amount of pressure on you when you arrive. You can end up either not enjoying the experience because you’re stuck studying the basics or you can get nervous and revert back to English instead of the local language.

How Should I Begin Learning a Foreign Language Learning?

One crucial step to having a pleasant language learning experience in your study abroad program is to begin exposing yourself to the language before you arrive. And for that, comprehensive Input is key (for more information on what this is, you can check out this blog post). 

You don’t want to spend your time focusing on grammar, vocabulary, and syntax. Instead, choose comprehensive input that’s interesting. This means that if you’re new to the language entirely, you’ll want to start listening to the words so that your brain can become familiar with it. Exposing yourself to music, TV, film, and other media in the target language is a great way to start. 

Immersion and Why It’s Important to Study Regularly

When it’s time to depart to your new destination for your study abroad program, you’ll want to have the right mindset so you can get the most out of your study abroad program. The key takeaway here is to remember that you’re there to learn. Immersion by itself doesn’t simply lead to fluency. Instead, there should be a strategy behind it. (Discover Guided Immersion). 

As long as you structure your trip around that idea, you’ll be fine. Here are some tips to help you reach fluency during your study abroad program: 

  • Make friends with the locals.
  • Set time aside each day to study.
  • Label items in your room in the target language.
  • Push yourself to speak.
  • Get out and experience the culture.

While it can be easy to slip into the mindset of a tourist, you should focus on being a student of the culture instead. Being in a study abroad program can help reinforce this notion and provide you with additional motivation to learn more as you live in your new destination. Each new trip, site, experience, and even the next meal is an opportunity for you to practice your target language. 

Pro tip: refrain from using your native language as much as possible. This will get easier with time. 

Fluency Requires Speaking

You’ll never reach fluency if you don’t speak. That’s why it’s so important to expose yourself to your target language before you even arrive at your study abroad program. You’ll be better off if you view immersion as a series of endless opportunities to speak.

If you’re nervous about speaking before you arrive, try finding a local business in your neighborhood that caters to the people of your target language. Trying dining out at various places like this and ordering off the menu in the target language. As you grow more comfortable, you can attempt small talk or even a full-on conversation.

When you arrive, you should focus on making local friends. Specifically, you’ll want to choose friends who are patient and willing to talk to you in your target language. The biggest challenge for students in study abroad programs is to speak OUTSIDE of the classroom. 

Having local friends who are native in your target language make this easier. Insist that you speak in their language and avoid using English as much as possible. As you grow more comfortable, you’ll make more friends and open yourself up to more opportunities to experience the culture and the language

How Taking a Break Boosts Language learning

Learning a new language in a study abroad program requires time. And the beauty of a study abroad program is that you’ll have a lot more of it. Taking breaks from learning a language is essential for your brain to build the new synapses it needs to retain that information. As paradoxical as it sounds, you need time to forget if you want to remember.

The most effective language learning platforms use Spaced Repetition Systems or SRS to help learners better retain and retrieve knowledge. The idea behind this methodology is that you are increasing the time between returning to lessons. This helps your brain retain knowledge and push it deeper into long-term memory. 

Structure your experiences around your lessons. If you want to visit a new site or enjoy a cultural event, then time your lessons around it so that you’re able to take a break and relax. Then, when you return to your lessons, you’re reinforcing the new knowledge so that it lasts longer. And when you’re out, don’t forget to use your target language as much as you can.  

Prepare Before You Start Your Study Abroad Program

The key to an effective study abroad program is to have the right focus, motivation, and programs in place so that you can get the most out of your experience. Most language learning apps suck. And the problem with many traditional methods is that they prioritize reading and writing over speaking and listening. Most programs like DuoLingo and Babble are great as flashcards, but they fall short at getting people to speak. 

If you want to get the most out of your study abroad program, then you need to speak the language. There’s no way around that. And you need a program that gets you speaking instead of typing, your language. Luckily, that’s exactly what OptiLingo does. For more information about how the program can help you rapidly achieve fluency so you’re fully prepared for your study abroad program, check out how OptiLingo works today!