Simple Steps to Learn a Language Before You Leave

One of the most frequent questions we get asked is, “Do I need to speak a foreign language to study abroad?” Students are typically very relieved to find that the answer is no!

While knowing the native language of the country you’re studying in is helpful, it is not required. Many of our program options in non-English speaking countries have a variety of courses offered in English. Having said that, the best way to learn a language is to be immersed in it!

If you are studying in a country where you don’t speak the language, you may want to brush up on local phrases before leaving the United States, so you don’t feel completely out of place when you arrive in your host country.  Some suggestions to get you started learning are:

  • Duolingo. I have so many friends who swear by this fun, interactive app when learning new languages!
  • Focus on the most important phrases. Chances are, you will have to ask where the bathroom is, and you will have to say thank you. Starting with the basics is less intimidating than trying to grasp full conversation pieces. Plus, it’s the polite thing to do!
  • Take a class. If you have time in your schedule and plan in advance, you can try to take a class in the language at Towson before you leave!
    • Find a tutor. Similarly, if the language you’re learning is taught at Towson, there may even be a tutor just for that language on campus.
  • Talk with a native speaker. Ask if any of your friends know someone who speaks the language, and connect with them.
  • Immerse yourself in popular culture and media in the language you want to learn. Listen to music, watch movies, and (if you can) read short articles in the language to get acquainted with it! Even if you don’t know what you’re hearing or seeing at first, you will eventually pick up on words and themes, and become familiarized with the culture.
  • Make flashcards. I know—as students, we dread making more flashcards than necessary, but they’re a great way to memorize different words and phrases!
  • Practice every day! The most important part of language-learning is memory. If you practice the phrases you want to learn and expand on it often, the phrases will become drilled in your memory before you go!

It is also important to note that studying abroad in an English-speaking country is still studying abroad. You will get a valuable cultural experience no matter where you go, because foreign English-speakers still have many different views and cultures that we don’t in our little corner of the world.

Other English-speaking countries also have different slang words and phrases for things, so it’ll feel like you’re learning a new language either way. In England, it took me weeks to figure out what the common words “ta,” “quid,” or “hob” were, or that when someone said they were “pissed,” they did not mean they were mad about something (in fact, they meant something very different!).

No matter where you go abroad, you will experience a different culture, and that’s what’s important! Don’t worry too much about the language barrier, but prepare before you go so you don’t feel totally lost.

As always, if you have any questions, you can visit our office in the Psychology Building, rm. 408. We are also available by phone at (410) 704-2451, and email at studyabroad@towson.edu.

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One response to “Simple Steps to Learn a Language Before You Leave

  1. Great article. Duolingo is the way to go for basic to intermediate. Faster and better than the paid services like Rosetta Stone, etc..

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