Top Tips for Learning the Local Lingo When Teaching English Abroad
Foreign language learning is a massively rewarding undertaking; going from stilted greetings to lively conversations can make you feel like a multi-million lottery winner. Of course, it’s also quite intimidating to start the learning process. In your home country, it’s simple to find a spot in a classroom with a native speaker, or for those who are more intrinsically motivated, self-study may be a viable option.
Making the Leap
You’re most likely here because you’re interested in teaching abroad, and may feel intimidated by the future language barrier. Fear not, learning a foreign language abroad where you’ll be immersed in the language is the best situation for quick absorption of vocabulary, grammar, accent, and the like! While teaching in Japan, I used a combination of tutoring, community center classes, and language exchanges for brushing up on my Japanese. Below is some insight into these three methods, which may help you decide the best way to learn the local lingo of your community.
First, and probably the most conventional of the three, is one-on-one tutoring. This is the most expensive option of the bunch, but language tutors will have the knowledge and skills to get you where you want to be in the language quicker than the other two community-based options. Many choose a tutor specifically to pass certain language assessment exams, such as the Japanese Language Proficiency Test (JLPT) which may or may not be your goal. For some, this study method puts more pressure on them than the others, but if you need help with motivation to keep studying, a tutor will be there to push you to do your best. You can also choose your study topics if there is a grammar point or a field of interest that appeals to you. Tutoring is probably the most effective way of building accuracy and is a good way of building fluency, at a bigger cost.
Chances are if you’re reading this, you’re at least fluent, if not a native speaker of English. Since it is such a widely spoken language and used in a lot of international settings, there are many people who want to learn it. This means you can help them while also helping yourself! Language exchanges are a laid-back experience where (in this case) English speakers will meet with locals, and they take turns teaching each other small lessons, usually for one or two hours. Since there is no formal teaching, these experiences are generally free, and it gives you time to chat with people in the community. While it’s not the most effective means of making leaps and bounds in your language acquisition, it is truly a superb way to use your new skills in a safe environment where you can grow confidence.
The humble community center: a place to hold local celebrations, a public meeting hall, an evacuation center in times of need, and… A classroom where you can learn a whole language? Absolutely. Community-run language classes are a cost-effective way to learn and improve skills, as well as a good way to meet locals who are keen to interact with and assist the foreign population. Odds are, even in rural areas there will be a community-run language class. Since the teachers are volunteers, the tuition fees are minimal, enough to cover any supplies used in class. The bigger class numbers mean there is a lot of interaction between students, including group and pairwork. This is great for meeting others in your community with similar language goals and means that those with stronger skills can help those who are just beginning. This, paired with the help local teachers, helps bolster relationships which makes you more prone to use the language you share together! Community center classes are a happy medium between cost and improving accuracy and fluency.
Mixing it Together
In my experience of working and studying in Japan, the ideal environment for learning Japanese was a balance of “traditional” study time, either in a classroom or by myself, as well as a healthy mix-in of meaningful interactions, like at community centers or language exchanges.
The conventional study time is used for forming and building upon language foundation, while the meaningful interactions, whether used at work or within the community, are used to make on-the-fly linguistic choices and gain confidence in the new skill. It’s important to not be embarrassed and continue making mistakes. Self-regulation is a wonderful thing! Even if you realize what you can say isn’t completely correct, it’s a lot more productive to say something, even a keyword, rather than say nothing. Whoever you’re speaking with will try to understand you, and in a worst-case scenario, you have an awkward story for your friends later.
Effective language learning happens through lots of different experiences and experiments, so try out some tutoring, language exchanges, and community-based classrooms to reach your full potential! Even if you learn just a little bit of the local lingo, you can bring it into the classroom. Your students will appreciate the effort, and it shows that while you’re willing to show them your country’s culture, you’re happy to explore theirs as well.
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