Tips To Learn The Local Language While Teaching Abroad

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When you're working abroad, you've got a great opportunity to learn the local language. Even if you're only planning on staying a year or two, it can be incredibly rewarding to use this time to master a new language.

TEFL teachers typically have a fair amount of free time as well, as some jobs only require a 20-30 hour work week. 

Still, you'll want to make sure that you're going about it the right way, and in this article we're going to look at some of the different ways to learn a language, and highlight their pros and cons.


A good way to get started is with some self-study. The main advantage of this is that you can start even before you move abroad. If you already have some basics under your belt before you go, things will be a lot easier.

On top of that, you can also go at your own pace, and you can do it from home, on the way to work, or anywhere you want. Perhaps the most popular reason though, is that it's very cheap, and in most cases free.

There are so many apps, cheap books, websites, and MP3's available for almost every language, that it really is hassle-free to get started on a budget. This is particularly useful when you first move to a new country and other initial expenses make you wary of spending too much on learning a language.

Of course, self-study has a lot of cons as well, so it's up to you to weigh up whether you think it'd be better to just start off with lessons instead.

For a start, self-study is very discipline dependent. Unless you can keep yourself motivated and remind yourself to study, it can be very easy to get slack with your studies and not make much progress. As you get used to every day life and collect a "survival vocabulary" to help you with most things, you might find yourself less interested in learning the language.

"I can get by OK with the words I already know" can become your new mantra quickly.

Another disadvantage is that your pronunciation might be bad and you wouldn't know. Unless you have a teacher to help correct you, you can find yourself saying things wrong or using the wrong words. You need to be very proactive when using self-study to learn a language, or anything for that matter.

Feedback from a teacher is a very important part of learning a language (as a teacher, you'll be aware of this), and so we recommend you consider at least learning the basics from a professional.

Once you are semi-fluent or have learned a good amount of the language, self-study can be more successful.

Language School Classes

This is one of the more popular options, and there are many pros to this method. You get to learn as part of a group, which adds an element of fun to the whole thing, while also allowing you to learn from your peers and even practice with them outside of the classroom.

On top of that, you also get to follow a structured course and can see your progress as you go. Many language schools also give you tests and homework, so if you are a committed student, the opportunity to grow and learn quickly is huge. This is perhaps one of the most "inclusive" ways of learning a language.

For some people, the fact that you usually have to pay for a whole course in advance is also an advantage. It means that they are forced to make a commitment and keep attending lessons. Even when your motivation dips a little, you still find yourself turning up for class.

This is also a con for a lot of people though, especially those who are new arrivals in the country and operating on a limited budget. The fact that you have to commit to paying a relatively large sum up front is too much for many people, as they aren't sure how committed they really are.

On top of that, if you fall ill, have a change in your own work schedule, or something else changes, you can end up missing a few of your lessons and wasting some of your money. You need to think carefully before committing.

Also, language school fees are often quite high, as schools need to pay for teachers, rent, books, and all the other costs associated with a physical business. The larger the class, the cheaper the costs of course, but this also means that you won't receive as much direct attention from your teacher.

University Study

As well as language schools, there are many universities that offer language classes. While a lot of the pros and cons will be similar to language schools, there are a few differences that justify us listing them separately.

For one, studying at a university will give you a good qualification, one that you'll likely be able to use when you return to your home country. For two, it's a great way of meeting other students and expats. University classes are often bigger than language school ones, which gives you more opportunity to meet someone you get along with.

On the downside, university courses can be a lot more intense, with classes up to three-hours long on a daily basis. They can also be quite homework and test intensive, so you'll end up using up a lot of your free time on studying. This can either be a pro or a con, depending on what kind of study you're after.

For those of you who aren't really morning people, you'll likely want to stay away from uni classes, as they mostly start early in the morning! This can also be an advantage for those of you who work in the afternoon or evening.

Private Tutors

Using a private tutor is a very flexible option. Just like self-study, you can usually choose exactly what you want to study, when you want, and how often you want to. You also get the benefit of having a one on one (or two on one) experience, meaning you'll get a lot more direct feedback and will often learn faster.

The biggest benefit of having a tutor is simply that everybody learns differently, and where you struggle on something, or learn it quickly, your tutor will adjust the pace of the lessons to make sure you get everything mastered. This is probably the most important part of learning a language, so it's a huge advantage.

On top of that, you also get to ask more direct questions or spend time on language concerns specific to your own situation, which really helps you, especially when living in a foreign country.

The downside is that tutors usually cost a lot more than group classes. There are a mixture of tutors out there as well, so you'll need to make sure you find a good one who is worth the price. Another downside is that when you have too much flexibility, you might find yourself missing some important things or not having enough direction to your study.

The best thing to do here would be to find a tutor who will use a textbook or has a syllabus for you to follow.

Language Exchange

A language exchange is where you will pair up with somebody who is a native language speaker, and help one another learn your respective languages. A common way to do this is to speak one language for 30 minutes, then switch to the other for the second 30.

A language exchange is definitely a mixed bag though. While it's free, and a great way to make friends with locals, the quality of learning you receive is not often up to comparable with the above methods. The average person doesn't understand the nuances of their language rules or might not be able to correct your mistakes properly, or may simply be too shy to correct you.

In addition to this, you'll usually find that English tends to dominate. This is because both of you will likely (though not always) have a much better grasp of English than the native language. In the cases where your partner has poor English, this can be an equally negative point, as without any decent communication between the two of you, things can become boring and frustrating very quickly.

Final Thoughts

In conclusion, choosing the best method for learning the local language really depends on you, your life/work situation, and what you want to get out of your studies.

The good news is that there is a range of things for you to try, which will suit any need, from casual learning to intense study. One other thing to consider is that you can also ask your friends or coworkers about their experiences, as each country may differ slightly.