Learning A Language When You Are In The ‘Wrong’ Country

Foreign Language Bookshop neon sign

Foreign Language Bookshop neon sign (Photo credit: avlxyz)

Since I have a strong interest in learning foreign languages, I read many language blogs and one comment I always see on these blogs (and on my own) is how much easier it is for the blogger to learn a language because they live in the country where it is spoken & how much harder it is for the commenter because they do not.  I would like to go on the record by saying that this belief is bullshit.

Yes, I live in Northern Germany where German is spoken but it is honestly easier for me not to speak German than it is for me to learn it.  My job is in English, I can do my hobbies in English, I can find someone (though it is not always easy) at any company that speaks English & all my friends, despite from being from all over the world including Germany, speak English.  In fact I can (and have) go days without speaking a single word of German.  I also know many expats who have lived here for over 10 years and know as much German as would a motivated tourist after 2 weeks – and by that I mean social niceties and being able to order a meal.

For me to learn to speak German despite living in a German speaking country I need to put a lot of effort into it. I need to go out of my way to find the resources to do so.  In fact, living here doesn’t give me a distinct advantage to learning German compared to anyone else on the planet.  The same resources I use are available to anyone, regardless of where they live.

The resources I use are:

1. Language courses

These are available at most community college or adult education centre. If your town does not have one, you can also find language courses online.

2. Websites

If you have the internet, you have access to the exact resources I do.  Do a google search looking for ‘<languages> learning sites’ and you will be amazed at the number of sites available.  You can also find newspapers online written in the language you are learning.

3. Podcasts

If you use iTunes simply go to the store section and type in ‘learn <language>’ and you will be overwhelmed by what is out there.

4. Computer Software

I have a low opinion on how effective computer software like Rosetta Stone is as a single resource for language learning, but if you have the cash to spare go for it, just remember to use other resources as well.

5. Books

This one may be a little trickier, but most libraries in major cities have books available in other languages.  If they don’t, ask the librarian for help – they may be able to get books in for you from other libraries.

6. Your own computer & smartphone

Change your operating system language on both your computer and smartphone to the language you are learning.  Also change the language on social media networks you use every day like Facebook.

7. Human Interaction

This one I will admit is easier if you are living in the country where the language is spoken, but it is not impossible if you don’t.  Sites like Couchsurfing and Meet-up allow you to meet with speakers of the language you are learning in your own city. If you aren’t up for face to face communication, you can try sites like My Language Exchange to meet people online and find penpals or people to chat to on Skype.

8. TV & Movies

Most DVDs have more than one language available, so buy DVDs that feature the language you are learning.  This may be easier in some regions than others.  Also, most TV channels put some of their content online, so do a search for the TV stations that use the language you are learning & check out their websites.

Being based in the ‘wrong’ country is a poor excuse to not learn the language you have always wanted to learn. The internet has made the world a very small place – take advantage of that fact. At times, you might have to work a little harder than someone living in the country but if the thought of doing some hard work puts you off, then perhaps you should re-think learning a foreign language as it is hard work no matter where you live.

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5 thoughts on “Learning A Language When You Are In The ‘Wrong’ Country

  1. Apologies, didn’t mean to wind you up with my comments yesterday. I agree that there are a ton of resources available through books, internet, etc.

    I simply assumed that you could easily surround yourself with people that are able fluently speak German because you were in Germany. While that may be possible here in the US (St. Louis – middle of the country), it does require a large amount of effort.

    I learn far better being immersed, and figured it would be easier to do so in Germany. Perhaps I was wrong in that assumption, but I didn’t mean anything by the comment. I agree it is not impossible to learn any language, regardless of where you are.

    • You didn’t wind me up at all, instead you reminded me to write that blog post I’ve always been meaning to write but never got around to.

  2. I’m enjoying your posts on learning German, because I’m in pretty much the same boat.

    I work with people who speak English because we’re frequently interacting with the US part of our company, and I live alone. Most of my German practice is in bars and restaurants. (I’m **really** good at reading menus now.)

    • I am awesome at talking about food and the weather, anything else and I quickly run out of vocab.

      My office has now gone from having 2 native German speakers I could speak German with, to none. Therefore, I’m going to find it a struggle to German every day so I’m going to have to turn more to internet resources as well as begging my German speaking friends here to endure my bad German.

  3. There are so many resources and ways of which one can learn a new language. You are absolutely correct. We learn new languages everyday in educational institutions, thats point enough. There are also language learning programs, videos online of pronunciation, and even face to face learning with a friend. Great post!

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