How to learn a language fast when studying abroad | Top Universities

How to learn a language fast when studying abroad

By Ayasha S

Updated September 12, 2022 Updated September 12, 2022

I’m Ayasha, an academic nomad travelling the world for my education as a master’s student on the Erasmus Mundus scholarship programme. I’ve travelled to 30 countries and I speak eight languages. I’ve often had to pick up new languages as I’ve travelled. I’m now learning Turkish as I’ll be spending the next few months in Istanbul.  

If you’re preparing to travel on an exchange programme or study in a new country with a different language from yours, you may need to learn some basics. It’s helpful to navigate your new life abroad and to better communicate with the local people.  

Here are my top tips for learning a language quickly when studying abroad. 

Where to start 

When learning a new language, there are lots of online resources available to make it as easy as possible. You don’t necessarily have to start with one-on-one tuition or pay for in-person classes. You can start in your own time.  

I find it best to start with free websites or watch videos on YouTube – I like to use the Easy Languages channel. The Duolingo language learning app is great for learning the basics and it prompts you to keep practising every day to make it a habit.  

This will set you up for the real experience when you arrive in your new country.  

Always practice your language skills 

When I first went to Spain on an exchange programme, I barely knew how to speak Spanish. In addition to taking Spanish courses at the university, the most effective way to learn was to participate in language exchange clubs. 

Check if there are language exchange clubs at your university or even in your city. If not, you can use apps like Tandem to find language pairs. I practised foreign languages ​​and even made friends from other countries through participation in language clubs and similar language apps. 

A common mistake that language learners make is thinking you need to have a good level first before you can practice with others. However, the sooner you start practising the language, the sooner you will achieve the results you want. It can also help you to learn the colloquialisms faster. 

Ayasha with her host family in France

Ayasha with her host family in France

Say it like a native 

One of my biggest problems with speaking a new language is pronunciation, as I want to sound like a native speaker so people can easily understand me.  

Russian speakers, like me, often find it difficult to pronounce the ‘th’ sounds in ‘there’ or ‘through’, but I keep practising because I want to make sure that the conversations I have are clear and avoid any misunderstanding.  

Here are some tips to help you improve your pronunciation: 

  • Watch videos or listen to audio and repeat the dialogue. Try to record yourself on a voice recorder, and then compare with the original speech. 

  • Listen to the language every day to distinguish between different intonations. 

  • Don't be afraid to make mistakes. Instead, ask people to correct you. This is much better than not practising the language out of fear. 

  • Don’t be shy. The main thing is to smile more often and talk about general interesting topics. 

  • Don't be afraid of your accent and remember that everyone has one.  

Memorise words more effectively 

New words can be easily forgotten if they are not used regularly. I try to learn words in context, so every time I see or hear a new one, I write it down immediately. I’ll use the dictionary to look up definitions, examples of its use and pronunciation, then make sentences up to help me understand how to use the word in the future.  

Context Reverso is a helpful platform that offers translations in context and in various situations. By memorising the new words, you will enrich your vocabulary to become a better speaker and writer. 

The stronger your vocabulary, the more content you can consume in the language, be it movies, books or just a conversation on various topics.

Ayasha making vocabulary notes

Ayasha making vocabulary notes

Immerse yourself in the language 

It can be easy to slip back into your native language when you arrive in your new country, especially if others speak it too. Speaking a new language can be scary and if  you struggle to understand a conversation, your first response can be to panic.  

Immersing yourself in a new language is the best way to learn. It’s a steep learning curve but it will definitely get you there faster. Before you arrive, you can immerse yourself in the language in different ways.  

You could read, watch films and TV shows in their original languages, listen to podcasts and speak to people online. When I arrived in Turkey, I started speaking to locals as soon as I could.

Ayasha with a friend at Lund University in Sweden

Ayasha with a friend at Lund University in Sweden

Combine the language with your favourite hobby 

To make the learning process interesting, combine your new language with your favourite hobbies. If you like dancing, watch dance lessons in a foreign language. If you like to travel, subscribe to travel vlogs. It’s another way to immerse yourself while watching something you’re already interested in.   

I first learned Spanish numbers by watching dance lessons. Uno, dos, tres, cha-cha-cha! 

My first words in French were at ballet lessons as a child in Kazakhstan. My ballet teacher taught us “plié” and “demi plié”, and repeated the words “croisée” and “pas” in pointe shoes. 

It can be daunting trying to learn a new language while preparing to move to an entirely new country, especially if you’re only there for a short period of time. With these tips and some determination, I’m confident you’ll find your way and have a wonderful experience studying abroad. 

This article was originally published in September 2022 .

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