General Education

Study Abroad: Breaking Down the Language Barrier

Study Abroad: Breaking Down the Language Barrier
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Noodle Staff October 3, 2012

Communication is key in any new experience. Here are ways to make sure you can master the language of your host country before getting on the plane.

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If we got a nickle for every time we heard someone say, "Why should I learn a foreign language? Everyone speaks English," we'd be in early retirement.

As Americans, we often take for granted that English has become the global go-to language. And while the English language can arguably be a great unifier, it has also made a lot of us Anglophones insanely lazy about learning a second language. So, sometimes we find ourselves in awkward or stressful situations when we travel abroad, because of a strong language barrier.

Benefits of learning a new language while studying abroad

Students that decide to study abroad often have an unforgettable experience. And why shouldn't they?

When you study abroad, typically during your junior year, you're truly living out a once in a lifetime opportunity. You're in your mid 20s. You're constantly meeting new people from a foreign culture. You can drink legally for the first time in your young adult life.

And you're most likely surrounded by one (or more) of the following: historic monuments, picturesque mountains, exotic wildlife, ancient ruins, and/or a stunning beach.

Tips for breaking down language barriers when studying abroad:

But if you truly want to make the most of your study abroad experience, we highly recommend taking the time to learn at least the very basics of your host country's native language.

The best way to successfully build up your language skills is to be disciplined and plan ahead. If you can determine where you want to study abroad a year, or at the bare minimum a semester, before you leave, then this will give you adequate time to start learning a new language.

Enroll in an introductory language course at your university.

This will not only allow you to learn in a group environment, but you will most likely meet fellow students who plan on studying abroad in the same country as yourself. And it never hurts to see a familiar face when you're in a foreign country.

Sign up for an online language course.

Rosetta Stone is the reigning king of language learning software. And although the cost of the software is a bit pricey, it can be a worthwhile investment if it means becoming near-fluent in a foreign language. If you don't want to spend that kind of dough and prefer to take classes online, there are plenty of other services that offer digital learning alternatives. is a great resource for finding language schools in your area.

Watch foreign films.

Movies might not seem like a valuable learning tool, but simply listening to a foreign language can help improve your comprehension level. It's can sometimes even be helpful to watch foreign films with the subtitles on (in the foreign language, not English!) so that you can start to connect the spoken words with the written.

Find a language partner.

Either before you depart or upon your arrival, get yourself a language partner. Not only is it a great way to socialize, but it is a surefire way to keep up your language skills while you're living abroad. Plus, there are a lot of things (namely slang and curse words) that you can learn from a local that formal language courses or software might miss.

And oftentimes getting a language partner can be free! Plenty of young people abroad are interested in improving their English, and are willing to set up an exchange - so you get to learn their language, and they get to learn yours. Gotta love the throwback to the good 'ol barter economy days.

What's next?

By breaking down the language barrier, you will significantly enhance your cultural, educational and personal study abroad experiences.

Communicating with strangers in a foreign language can be nerve racking, but also extremely rewarding. Just plan ahead, study hard and don't worry about making a few mistakes along the way.

Interested in finding the perfect foreign language tutor or the study abroad program that's the best fit for your skills and interests? Check out the rest of our articles about study abroad and let Noodle help you find your perfect school match.

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