If you’re staying abroad in a foreign country and are trying to learn the local dialect, your best bet for acquiring the language fast is immersion. Since you’re already living among the people who speak it natively, you’ll have every opportunity in the world to practice, train and learn from the most authentic sources imaginable.
Being in the country who speak the language natively puts you in prime position to learn this way. You have a geographical advantage over other learners — there are potential resources for learning everywhere you look. So we encourage to take advantage of your situation.
Before You Start
Finding and developing right attitude is a must before starting the study of any language. You need to be hopefully optimistic, all while grounded in practicality regarding the amount of work that lay in front of you. Learning a language quickly isn’t easy. In fact, the intense training immersion entails will require more from you compared to what you’ll get from a regular class. You want to learn fast, you have to take the knocks. And there will be plenty so prepare yourself.
Additionally, put your primary motivations for learning the language into words. Write it down and make it very clear. Every time you get to the point of giving up for whatever reason, pull that written note out and read it to remind yourself of what you’re striving for.
Even though you’ll be learning primarily from interacting with locals, you’ll still need a few study tools to help prepare you for them. We recommend:
- Language software. Obviously, you won’t need a language software when you’re out in the streets. However, having a language software is good for maintaining a structured lesson where you can discover new words in a gradual and orderly manner. It also makes a neat reference for grammar principles when you encounter things that don’t make sense during your interactions. If you can, learn as much from your software as possible before entering the home country, so you can spend more time testing yourself in the field.
- Phrasebook. Buy an inexpensive phrasebook that you can keep in your pocket for quick review every time you want to brush up on a word or phrase. Phrasebooks are particularly useful because you can check for a phrase before entering a conversation (e.g. before entering a restaurant, you can review the phrases you’ll need to interact with staff). If you own a smartphone, there are several phrasebooks available in app form, which should be an even more practical option.
- Journal. This is optional, but a journal can really help you keep things in perspective. Jot down your thoughts and experiences regarding the language daily. You’ll likely be surprised at the things you wrote down after two weeks of journaling.
Learning by immersion requires diving right into the thick of the action, similar to learning to swim by jumping right into the ocean with no floatation devices. It takes courage and a lot of anxiety management to get done. If you can muster both, however, you’ll find it to be one of the most rewarding strategies for language acquisition.
Use The Language Exclusively
Whenever you’re interacting with anyone while in the country, speak the target language exclusively. Even if you’re talking to English-trained hotel staff, go right into second-language mode. Your priority is putting the learning first, well before being able to communicate effectively. I know, that sounds backwards, but it pays to consider the first two months of exposure to the language as a training period — doing so will help you gain skills at a considerably faster pace.
Sure, you’ll speak in broken phrases, encounter confused reactions and spend long hours trying to make people understand what you’re saying. The upside, though, is that you’re forcing yourself to adapt every chance there is, instead of reverting to what’s convenient every chance you get. This should reinforce the target language in a stronger way, as you’re keeping at it even when the going gets tough.
Don’t Speak English
As much as possible, refrain from speaking in English, even among people who do, including friends, co-workers and family. Unless they’re absolutely oblivious to the target language, that is. If they speak even a little, then stick to the foreign dialect during interactions — you’ll be helping each other improve.
This is possibly the most important thing you can do. Relying on English to socialize with people in your circle makes for fun times, sure. But it also takes away from opportunities to use the new language. Given that you’ll likely be socializing with these people more than you will with strangers, it doesn’t make for the best use of you time. Remember: you want to learn the language fast. Using English as a crutch won’t help that in any way, shape or form.
Think In The Target Language
Real immersion means substituting things you used to do in English with the new language. That includes how you formulate your thoughts. Instead of just using the language to communicate with people around you, start thinking in the target language. That is, use it in your internal dialogue and other mental tasks. Doing so doubles your mileage for language practice, as you’re doing it both while you’re talking and while you’re in repose.
Whether you realize it or not, you probably have a regular internal dialogue going. Start being conscious of it, then substitute the language of your thought with the new vernacular you’re learning.
Immersion is a largely unstructured approach to learning. If you need some form of organization to keep track of your progress, we recommend setting milestones or mini-goals, as some like to call them.
Make these milestones very specific, so you can tick them off just like a to-do list. Stay away from hard-to-measure goals like “Hold smooth conversations.” Instead, make them detailed and concrete, such as “Get hotel staff to help me find restaurants in the next city using the target language” or “Talk to cab driver about best places to rent in the area.” Do you see the difference? The former requires interpretation to see if you’ve succeeded, the latter is more straightforward.