7 Tips to Help Navigate Language Barriers During Your Study Abroad
Between accents, slang, and uncertainty about proper grammar use — the language barrier can make communication difficult even with all the resources available at your college or university. We’ve put together some of our best tips to help you navigate the language barriers you might face to make your transition to the U.S. that much easier!
1. Don’t fear failure
It’s easy to fall into the trap of thinking that people will judge you based on how you speak. The reality is, every student is facing a challenge of his or her own — their support will be greater than the negativity. Your story — not how you speak — is what they’ll see you for. And as they say, “the best things in life are on the other side of fear.”
Being fearful will prevent you from stepping out of your comfort zone, when in reality, doing so is the first step to unlocking your true learning potential. Embracing every opportunity rather than shying away from it will make the whole world your canvas as you learn the English language.
2. Engage with American culture
Watch American TV shows or movies, listen to music in English, and expose yourself to the many American media outlets to familiarize yourself with American culture. For a student looking to learn a new language, there are few ways more effective (and enjoyable) than consuming media. Modern music and television are filled with slang or pop culture references that you wouldn’t learn through traditional means.
When you’re spending time at home watching TV, make the choice to turn on English subtitles or better yet, watch it in English.
3. Rehearse ‘key phrases’
As you go through your daily life, there are phrases you’ll use more often than others. Recite these over and over … and over again, until they’re second nature. Having these in your back pocket can help you navigate basic interactions while the rest of your English catches up. These phrases can be anything from your order at Starbucks to how you greet people.
On the other end of the spectrum, this tip can also apply for phrases you find challenging to pronounce. If you’ve found that saying a particular phrase is especially difficult, practice until it isn’t. To get the proper pronunciation, you can use online applications, dictionaries, or videos that replicate what you hope to sound like.
4. Use peer-to-peer learning
Finding a friend to join you on your English language journey can be a great support, as well as added motivation to improve your own skills. Studying abroad is meant to push you out of your comfort zone. Incorporating English speaking not just when it’s necessary, but making it a part of your life will give you the most opportunity to grow.
As you meet friends throughout your journey — both experienced and inexperienced English speakers — you can incorporate new ways of learning depending on your relationships. Do they speak the same language as you but are also learning English? Make the choice to speak only in English. Are they from the U.S.? Ask them to help you correct your pronunciation.
5. Enroll in an Intensive English Program
Want to improve your English language skills as quickly as possible? Colleges and universities offer Intensive English Programs to accelerate your language learning by placing you in an environment built to maximize your growth. You can expect to spend more than 20 hours a week learning the fundamentals of English including reading, writing, listening, and speaking, to TOEFL test preparation and more! Upon completion of your IEP, you can often transition directly into your degree program.
6. Focus on quality over quantity
For new English learners, there’s almost a desperation to sound fluent right away. From the very beginning, make it a priority to focus on quality. Even if it means getting your words out slowly, there’s no harm in learning things the right way. And trust us when we say that the earlier you start doing this, the sooner you’ll master the English language.
7. Practice, practice, practice!
Rome wasn’t built in a day. Build a consistent practice schedule, and if you can find time outside of it to practice, go for it! Every conversation is a new opportunity to hone your skills. If you get a tiny bit better every day, just imagine how well you’ll be speaking English by the end of the year!
Language barriers hinder even the most prepared of students, but having a strategy to deal with them will help you move on from the challenge of learning English, and give you more time to enjoy everything your study abroad adventure has to offer.
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