Have you ever heard people saying, “Oh, I would learn a new language if I would live in that country? Then it would be so easy.” As a language blogger and as a language learner I have heard this phrase more than I could count. Today I am going to discuss Is Learning a New Language Easy If You Are Living abroad as an Expat?
I have personal experience of living as an expat in three different countries and currently, I am living in Austria. I have been here now for 5 months and today I am going to tell did I learn German very quickly.
Myth: “You Just Learn It Automatically”
Some people think that if you are living abroad, you learn a new language automatically. Or they think that at least children learn it automatically. Do you know what? Not true.
You can actually learn a new language “automatically” in some sense by using this trick but the reality is that learning a new language requires always practice and dedication. Even children need hours and hours of practice to become fluent. They need to make tons of mistakes before mastering the language. Adults could learn a new language much faster than kids but sometimes adults are afraid of mistakes.
This is what many people think will happen, “You move to a new country. Then you will hear people speaking it everywhere and you will catch new words. You hear it in the supermarket, TV, hobbies, at work and so on. You don’t even realize that you are studying become it happens so easily.” This story can be true if you would be living in a country where nobody speaks English or any other language that you already speak. OR if you have a good attitude and you go to situations where you would need to use your language.
But I will share later what happened to me and what has happened to many other people. I share my story because as Jim Rohn says, “We always hear success stories. But it would also be beneficial to stories when things didn’t go perfectly. Then we can learn from them.”
My Story: Learning German (and a Few Other Languages)
In August of 2016, I got an information that I got a job in Austria and I will move there in November. I immediately started studying German in Duolingo and I also took some private lessons on Italki. I practiced daily and I progressed very fast.
In August I started from level 0 and in November I was able to have some kind of conversations in German. I spoke even 5 minutes in front of other people in a church in German without preparing at all. I was very satisfied with my progress. At the same time, I had also studied French with Francais Authentique and some Spanish by listening to an audio Bible, for example.
Everybody said that I would learn German so easily when I move to Austria and I thought so too. I made so good progress while living in Finland. I improved constantly 3-4 foreign languages even though I was living in my home country. I practiced them almost every day.
Then I moved to Austria in November 2016. I even went to a German course in a local language school because my company paid it. But guess what happened? I stopped making progress with German.
Let me clarify this:
When I was living in Finland I learned German very fast but when I moved to Austria, I stopped learning.
It’s, of course, a little bit of exaggeration but it tells you an important pitfall. Let me tell what happened.
“It Will Become Automatically” Was Not Right
I had believed this myth that I would learn automatically. I knew that it’s not right for most of the people but I had already some background on German and I learn languages easily because of my attitude. But here my attitude was not right.
Do you know what a famous motivational speaker Jim Rohn says? “It was easy to become a millionaire. But why don’t everyone become a millionaire? It is also easy not to become a millionaire.” The Same principle applies to learning a new language. It’s easy to learn any language but it’s also easy not to learn it.
It only depends on what kind of habits do you choose. I chose the wrong habits with German. I could have spoken more German at my workplace but I spoke English because it was easier. I could have listened to teachings in German but I preferred to listen to everything in English. I could have read the Bible in German but I read it in Finnish.
I can’t take the time back but I can learn and help other people to avoid same mistakes.
If you want to learn a new language while living abroad, you need to use it in daily life. This may sound obvious but still many people (including myself) seem to forget it. I know people who have lived 20-30 years in another country and they still don’t speak a local language. Even the dumbest person in the world could have learned a local language in such a long period of time.
Choose Your Habits = Decide If You Will Learn or Not
If you choose the right habits, you’ll learn a new language “automatically”. Let me give an example of my day how I could learn German:
1.Wake up and listen to the GERMAN motivational teaching.
2.Read the GERMAN Bible while going to work
3.Speak GERMAN with my colleagues at work
4.Speak GERMAN with my flatmates
5.Send messages in GERMAN to native speakers instead of using English
I look back now and think if I would have decided differently 5 months ago. I could now speak German now very fluently. It’s all about little choices we made in our everyday lives. Action decides results.
But thanks, God, never is too late. I can still implement some of those little actions to my daily life. What about you?
Let’s say that you want to learn French but you are living in your home country. How could you do it? This is what I did.
1.Listened to Francais Authentique
2.Used Duolingo and Memrise
3.I practiced French with my friend from Italki
4.I read the French Bible and listened to some teachings on Youtube.
and so on.
You can notice that you can do all of those things while living anywhere in the world.
Conclusion – Is Learning a New Language Easy When You Are Living Abroad as an Expat?
First of all, you don’t need to live abroad to learn a foreign language. I have noticed it in my life and Benny Lewis among other language experts say the same. It doesn’t depend on your talent can you learn a new language, it depends on your attitude.
Learning a new language as an expat may be easier but as my story showed, don’t count on it. I thought that I would learn so automatically that I wouldn’t need to put any effort. But then I decided the wrong habits which didn’t help me to learn German. I also know the successful habits that I have learned to speak other languages.
Choose the right habits and learning a new language is easy.
In the end, I want to mention that I speak some German. I can manage some kind of conversations but still, I have to practice a lot for fluency.
Now I would like to hear from you! Do you think it’s easy to learn a new language while living abroad? Do you have experience of living as an expat?
Let me know in the comments below! 🙂
Learning comments from visitors makes my day. I will respond all comments personally within 24 hours (usually in a few hours).
Well, I am one of the many who believed someone could learn a new language while living abroad. Although I have only lived in the United States, I would have assumed that I would be able to easily “pick up” the language of that of country.
But what you said makes perfect sense: learning a new language like anything else takes practice, dedication and developing new habits.
I’d like to learn: Spanish, French, Hebrew, and Aramaic.
Thanks for sharing your lessons, Roope.
thank you very much for sharing your thoughts.
Are you a Christian because you want to learn Hebrew and Aramaic? I am myself a Christian and I have some friends who learned Hebrew so they can read the Hebrew (original) version of the Bible. And Aramaic was a mother tongue of Jesus.
Spanish and French are very close to English so you will learn those languages quickly if you want. Here is a list of great Spanish learning options and also for French. You can become fluent in French, Spanish, Hebrew and Aramaic without moving away from U.S. by using online resources. Nowadays we have better chances to learn new languages than ever in the human history.
Wish you all the best!
I have always wanted to learn Spanish, but I haven’t taken the time to actually do it. You have some great advice that may make me pick up and try to learn it once I get motivated to do so. I won’t be traveling anywhere anytime soon so I would learn it at home.
you can learn Spanish nowadays easily on the Internet. I have used lots of online methods to learn Spanish and other languages as well. I found many native speakers on Italki. Have a look at let me know what did you like. I bet you’ll like it a lot 🙂
I am one of those who always thought that being totally immersed in a language would help you learn it faster, though I did recognise that it wasn’t just because you would be hearing it, but because you would be forced to use it…
I think you are very correct about one thing in particular: we could learn faster if we weren’t afraid of making mistakes. I live in Quebec and when I was little, I had a fair bit of difficulty with French because I was very self-conscious. I didn’t want to speak it until I was perfectly fluent. Of course, I couldn’t become fluent because I wasn’t speaking it. It was only years later, when I entered to workforce, that I started making real progress, because I was forced to speak French at work.
I do think that some people have a natural aptitude for language, however. I personally happen to love languages and I believe that I am pretty good at picking up the structure of a new language. I studied Russian and Spanish in school, and as an adult I have turned my attention toward Irish and Welsh.
Did you find Duolingo useful? I have tried using it and find it interesting and fun, but I am not sure how effective it is at actually teaching a language.
yeah, when you are forced to use a new language, it helps. But, for example, here in Austria almost everybody speaks English so I am not forced to use German.
Good to hear that you learn languages fast and easily. I believe everybody can if they have a good attitude and right techniques.
I have found Duolingo very useful. It helped me a lot with German and French. In the beginning, it was my main source of learning those languages and I improved quite quickly with their service. So, in my experience it’s very effective.
Am definitely one of the few who doesn’t believe that living abroad can make you learn a new language. No it doesn’t work that way. It all about mindset and preparedness. But I must agree, living abroad can help make learning a new language faster and also enable you speak like a native that’s for those with the zeal to learn.
Thanks for sharing your story Roope, its motivating in a way I guess. Thanks also for the post. Only wish a lot of people can accept the facts as we se them.
Yeah, everything depends on the right mindset 🙂
I totally agree with you, you really do not have to be in a certain country to learn a new language. I already used platforms with Duolingo, but I ended up getting lazy Hahaha … I would like to speak Portuguese, it is a very interesting language, but it is also complex. What do you think?
Thanks for sharing your experiences, have a good afternoon.
I also think that Portugues is a very interesting language. It’s also a beautiful language. I think that it wouldn’t be so hard to learn it because I already speak Spanish, English and some French which are pretty close to Portuguese.
I think that you could also learn it pretty fast because you already speak English.
Thanks for sharing this excellent article! I agree with you totally. When it comes to learning a new language, attitude is key. Living abroad as an expat doesn’t make this easier. If you have the right habits, you can learn a language much faster. Another thing that I want to add here is, consistency is also crucial. I have some friends who start learning a new language but give up soon when they get bored.
Great points. Thank you for sharing. I have also learned that the consistency is a key to success for anything worthwhile in life. It applies to language learning, business, health and pretty much to everything.