The language barrier can be the most scary (and exciting!) part of accepting a position abroad. Whether or not your are actually working in your mother tongue, having a working knowledge of your host country’s language is not only useful, but is also a sign of respect. Learning a new language can also satisfy curiosity, and make use of the creative part of the brain!
So how do you go about learning a new language once you decide to work abroad? They truth is that there are about as many ways to learn a new language as there are languages to learn! And there is no right answer. While many claim that a second (or third, or fourth) language comes easier to some people than others, pretty much everyone has the capacity to learn. You may not pick things up as quickly as your friends or colleagues, or you might reach fluency at lightning pace – all it takes is a little effort, and letting go of your inhibitions to get going on the road to communication in a foreign country.
Many corporate jobs will give you some resources to help you learn a new language if you are being transferred abroad as part of a relocation. This could be anything from Rosetta Stone to one-on-one lessons with a private tutor. If you are fortunate enough to receive this extra help, take as much advantage of this as possible! While I don’t have any first-hand experience with Rosetta Stone, it gets rave reviews from many military friends of mine who were stationed abroad, and most people who aren’t scared off by the price tag see great results if they can still with the entire language-learning series.
Whether you’re learning the Greek language or French, a private tutor is obviously a little more ideal for language-learning – especially if you are an absolute beginner. But the biggest mistake that people can make when working with someone one-on-one is not managing expectations. While your tutor can pace the class according to your needs, they can’t actually learn the language for you. You’ll need to be vocal and flexible – while it may feel silly to sit with a peer and talk about the best way to order ice cream or how to check your bags on an airplane, you will rarely have the opportunity to openly practice your conversation skills with some who is actually paid to listen to you and correct you.
If you don’t have the luxury of free in-person lessons, consider a language partner arrangement. there are many people in foreign countries who are looking to practice their English language skills, and if you are fluent in English you can “swap” lessons with another person a few times a week to practice your conversation skills. This is a great complement to a language textbook or podcast series, and won’t break the bank. Most conversation partners meet for coffee, and then spend an hour in one language, and switch to the other language half-way through. You can use Craigslist or Facebook (or another popular social networking site in the region) to find someone, or post an ad yourself! As with any Internet meet-up, make sure that you meet your partner in a public place, even if it isn’t necessarily a coffee shop.
Most major cities abroad will have group-based language classes for expats as well, which can range in price from affordable to outrageous. The best way to choose a language school from abroad (if you’d like to set up your classes before hand) is to check out any online reviews that are available, or ask around at your new place of work. Often, language schools have a referral system that provides incentives for people to recommend the school to others, so you might find that many people have opinions to share!
Whatever way you decide to jump into language learning, there is one important tip that you shouldn’t forget: the only way to learn is by speaking. Many people are shy when they are first learning a new language, and are afraid that they will say something wrong, or sound silly. The truth is – this is going to happen anyway! We all have to start somewhere when learning a new skill, and that is especially true for language. The only way to get over your anxiety is to speak, and speak often. Then you will be well on your way to becoming bi-lingual, and being successful at your new job abroad.