Relocation and the golden opportunity of learning another language
February 8, 2018
For many of you who speak English natively and are planning to relocate to somewhere that doesn’t, the prospect of picking up language schooling will conjure up embarrassing teenage memories of attempts at French or Spanish pronunciation. It probably wouldn’t be an exaggeration to say it probably demotivates a substantial number of you from ever attempting again.
For those of you who aren’t native English speakers, well, you underscore the wider point; most continental Europeans can speak a second-language, while under a quarter of British adults – and even less American adults – can’t. But relocation represents language-learning opportunities for everyone.
Of course, there are completely understandable reasons for the above disparity; foreign language learning starts comparatively later in Britain and America as one example. The plasticity of the brain in childhood makes absorbing such information more straightforward, but this shouldn’t put prospective adult-learners off.
As a result, this isn’t meant to be one of those common editorials chastising those provincial “monolinguals”. Rather, it’s an encouragement to all of you, multilingual or not, who are moving overseas: See this as an opportunity rather than a hindrance.
The mobile-device revolution (and the staggering amount of free resources available)
Learning a foreign language has never been more convenient. If you have a desktop, smartphone or other mobile device, you have access to language-learning resources that linguists and learners alike could only have dreamed of a few decades ago.
Flashcard software is one of the best examples of this. While flashcards used to have all the drawbacks physical learning tools have (immobile, lengthy to create etc.), digital variants paired on a mobile device are unshackled from any of these restraints. They allow you to pencil in ad-hoc learning time whenever you want, in short five minute bursts or more.
Free flashcard software like Anki (by far the most popular in its class), allows users to create, refine and share “decks” of their own. This means you have access to beginner’s decks ranging from “common Spanish restaurant vocabulary” to “day-to-day business German”. This is an unparalleled level of convenience. Imagine the time investment required to create a physical deck of flashcards on these topics.
Not only is flashcard software convenient, it also reinforces time-proven efficient learning techniques. They directly aid spaced-repetition, active recall while also enhancing retention over time with machine-learning that predicts which areas you are weakest in.
Flashcard software is not an isolated case. Free language courses like Duolingo introduce gamification into language-learning, tapping into your neurology to urge you forward. Furthermore, although penpal services like Interpals have been around for a while, new mobile apps such as HelloTalk make engaging with native-speakers socially as easy as any other modern social-platform. The range of tools you have available can equip you to achieve an intermediate level of understanding of the language even before touching down in your new home.
A positive impact on your career and well-being
Certain careers will benefit more from local-language learning; but even if you are self-employed, language ability increases your market of potential customers. Moreover, if you aren’t moving for career-related reasons, you can still benefit from engagement with the local language in a variety of other ways.
For example, repeated studies show that cultural training, and specifically language-learning, have a positive psychological impact in that they reduce the time necessary to adjust to a new location. This seems obvious, learning the local language allows you to not just engage with a potentially wider social circle, but also makes the day-to-day practicalities of living abroad significantly easier, even if it is just buying groceries.
Factoring in language difficulty
Another important consideration that is imperative to bear in mind is language difficulty. This is relative of course, a native English speaker will find learning Dutch substantially easier than learning Korean.
So all this really means is that you have some idea from the outset roughly how much time investment the local language would actually require, and what that would demand of you on a weekly basis.
The US Foreign Service Institute (FSI) has created a helpful index of languages, by their relative difficulty for native English speakers that you may want to refer to for this purpose.
How relocation can speed up your language learning ability
One of the most consistent findings from all studies on language teaching techniques is that immersion speeds up learning ability. Therefore, relocation offers you an opportunity even those studying back home don’t have: The ability to immerse yourself in the language every single day.
The latest neurological research shows that immersion not only makes you learn faster, but allows even adult students to attain native speaker brain-patterns. This means that understanding the language on its own terms, i.e. not simply translating from your native language into the one you’re learning, is more achievable.
Again, it is important to view these aspects of your relocation as opportunities rather than burdens. Many students of foreign languages would jump at the chance to live in a country where it is spoken natively, so take advantage of this.
Some take-away tips.
Pull together a list of useful software you can install on your phone, relevant to the language you’re learning.
Set aside some time in your day, even if it’s just twenty minutes on the bus into work, before you relocate. Try to achieve some basic-level vocabulary through flashcard repetition.
Try to use the language after you relocate. This requires overcoming a sense of embarrassment for many people, but you’ll quickly discover most people are very forgiving and appreciative of the effort you’ve taken.
If you feel you would benefit from formal language teaching then get in touch with us. We have our own language support team, and can also draw upon our experience to suggest schools and tutors across the globe.