(Photo source: SHVETS on Pexels)
As you may know, you don’t need to speak a foreign language in order to teach abroad. You only need to possess a command of the English language. However, what if you want to learn a foreign language?
Perhaps you’ve decided to take the leap of faith and go abroad to teach at an international school. Rather than remaining monolingual, you want to learn the local language and immerse yourself in the culture. This is a very common scenario among prospective international teachers. Where would you start?
Language Learning Apps
Starting at the top, you need to develop some basic building blocks. Learning a foreign language is like learning any other skill. You need to walk before you can run, and this all starts with language learning apps.
There are dozens of highly effective language learning apps on the market today, all with different strengths and approaches. But no matter the framework each uses, they all have the same end goal, teaching you basic grammar and a wide swath of vocabulary. Language apps like Babbel, Duolingo, and Rosetta Stone use flashcard drills, matching pairs, short video clips, and other exercises to provide you with fundamental building blocks that are mission critical to taking the next step.
Plus, one of the biggest benefits of language apps is that they are cheap. In most cases, language learning apps use monthly subscription plans, costing less than $10 per month. Given the amount you’re likely to outlay on your move abroad, less than $10 per month is a small investment. Once you’ve decided on an app that fits your style and budget, start hammering lessons. To learn your target language quickly, plan on spending an hour per day running through lessons.
Once you’ve spent a couple of weeks learning some essential vocabulary and you start to understand basic grammar principles of your target language with a language learning app, the second element to add to your toolbox is YouTube.
Offering thousands of language learning videos, all totally free, it is an invaluable resource. In fact, there are entire YouTube channels dedicated to learning specific languages. For example, if you’re seeking to learn Italian, YouTube channels like Italy Made Easy, Easy Italian, and Ouino Languages all offer endless hours of Italian language content for free.
These channels provide everything from basic vocab to detailed grammar instruction to differences in regional dialects. Combining these highly impactful videos with the all-important language learning app can really bolster the speed of your learning. In terms of your 90-day game plan, keep at your daily language app lessons, but start layering in YouTube videos here and there where you can. My best advice, find videos that focus on basic conversations and fundamental aspects of the language. This will help prevent frustration until you’re ready to move on.
Perhaps a month into your language learning journey, if you’ve been consistent with your language learning app lessons and you’ve started replacing your nightly TV with YouTube videos, you might be ready for the next step, children’s shows. Troll through your streaming apps like Netflix, Hulu, and Disney+ for children’s content in your target language. Whatever you can find, turn on the subtitles and start watching.
There is a harsh reality though. You’ll likely feel overwhelmed by the show you choose to watch, and because it’s television for children, likely embarrassed as well. But don’t give up. Even though you’ll feel overwhelmed, you need to stick with it. The repetition of hearing the words spoken and seeing them spelled in the subtitles can be incredibly impactful.
At this point in your journey, you’re likely to have a lot on your plate between language learning app lessons, YouTube videos, and children’s shows. But at some point, you’ll start to gain confidence and feel like you’re ready to graduate from kids’ television and YouTube.
This is when you need to start incorporating podcasts. There are dozens of podcasts available which are focused narrowly on language learning. In fact, many of them are created and released by the language app companies themselves. This might even influence your decision on which language learning app to go with. Look to see which apps have podcasts as part of their package before buying.
In any event, once you find a podcast that seems to be a good fit for you, start swapping out your normal podcasts and music for it. When you walk the dog, listen to a podcast. When you’re driving to the store, listen to a podcast. When you are exercising, listen to a podcast. Because listening to a podcast is a purely auditory experience, if you can stick with it, it can significantly elevate your listening comprehension skills.
Digital Pen Pals
The last and final step to incorporate into your language learning approach before departing for your overseas adventure (perhaps around the eight-week mark) is to leverage a digital pen pal.
There are dozens of websites that can connect you with someone overseas who is willing to communicate and engage with you in a little cross-education. As much as you want to learn French or Korean, there is someone on the other side of the globe that equally wants to earn English. So, peruse some digital pen pal websites, find one that looks good to you, and locate yourself a virtual pen pal.
Once you get to know each other a little bit, start exchanging emails and even voice and video messages if you like. At the end of the day, immersion is the best thing you can do for learning a new language, and an overseas pen pal is about the closest you will get to immersion until you land in your new country.
If you can dedicate some serious time each and every day for 90 days to your language learning goal (consistency is key), it is absolutely possible to obtain an intermediate level of fluency. Follow these steps noted above and you’ll be well on your way to being a bilingual citizen of the world.
John Ross is a certified Learning and Development Specialist and has significant experience teaching English overseas. Between college and graduate school, John spent 18 months teaching English in Hangzhou, China, where he also learned to speak elementary Mandarin.