Tips and tricks for learning a new language

For expats heading to a non-English-speaking country, one question looms large: what's the fastest way to learn the local language?

While there aren't any shortcuts to becoming fluent overnight, there are definitely a few things you can do to pick up a new language just that little bit faster. Here are some of our top tips.

Back to school

First, an obvious one: taking classes is an essential part of learning a new language. Although they cost money and time, lessons allow you to study the language in a structured environment where you can ask questions – plus you might make a few new friends to practise with. Language classes can be taken either before or after moving to your new country, or preferably both. Some countries even offer free language courses funded by the government so that foreigners can learn the local language and integrate more easily into the community.

Get creative

It's no secret that learning a new language is a difficult task, and it can be all too easy to leave it behind in the classroom and not practise in your free time. Though going the extra mile may seem tedious, it's a sure way to begin integrating the language into your everyday life, even before you leave for your expat destination. Some ideas include putting post-it notes around your home and office with commonly used phrases, or getting into the habit of doing "round robins" with friends and family who are also learning the language. One way to do this would be to pick a category (like colours, sports or activities) and go around the circle with each person naming an example in the language.

Practice with locals

One of the most compelling reasons to learn a country's language is to integrate better with its culture and people – and what better way to do that than to strike up a conversation with a local? In some places, this may be easier said than done, as expats often find that locals automatically switch to English when speaking with a foreigner. In this case, explain to them that you're learning the local language and would like to practise with them. Don't be shy about not having the perfect accent or mispronouncing a word – rather encourage the locals to help you improve on any mistakes.

Make use of technology

From language learning applications to podcasts, there are all sorts of ways that technology can help you to learn a language. There's a wide variety of popular podcasts to choose from that focus on teaching a particular language. These can be listened to during your daily commute or while cooking dinner or doing chores around the house. Smartphone owners can also make use of the many language learning applications available. Many of these aim to make the learning process fun with a game-like interface, including different levels and achievements.

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Meagan Dill
Cape Town, South Africa
Meagan is a writer and editor for Expat Arrivals.

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