Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Study Abroad: Not as easy as you think!

Having taught English for twenty years, I have noticed many misperceptions among international students and their parents on the keys to learning English here in the United States. In order to learn any language, just being in the vicinity or area where the language is spoken is not enough to guarantee a student will learn. Many parents assume that if there children travel to a foreign country, they children will somehow naturally learn the language. However, I see time and time again on a daily basis that many international students tend to isolate themselves from the community by spending all their time with friends from their same country. Now, this isn't necessarily bad if the students are trying to speak English, but these students will make little progress if the only English they use is in the language classroom and at McDonalds when they order a hamburger.

In fact, I have met many people who learned to speak English in their home countries without ever going abroad, and they were able to do this because they were very motivated, sought out opportunities to speak English when they could, and had very good study skills.

So, please share your thoughts and opinions on how to learn language better, either overseas or in your home country.



  1. I myself have never been abroad. However, in order to make up for the fact that I've never been to an English speaking country, I've always sought out opportunities to talk to native speakers of the language - especially over the Internet. I agree that just by being in the country where English is spoken is not enough to learn the language. It takes much more than that. Learners must experiment with what they already know, make mistakes, learn from others by being engaged in free conversations, test and consolidate their knowledge of language, and last but not least: HAVE A LOT OF FUN. :-)

  2. Melissa --- from TaiwanMarch 4, 2008 at 7:31 PM

    I'm now an exchange student in America, that means I'm still an English learner. What Randall says is pretty true that, international students from other countries tend to spend most of the time being together. But like in our school, we international students all know that we are here to learn English, so we will try not to stay together too often, instead, we'll go to American students and spend time with them.
    Internet is so convenient nowadays that we can easily learn English on-line. And we can even talk to them face to face, I thought that's pretty awsome! But I have to say that if you get the chance to study abroad, than go for it! After all, that's really different from just studing English by yourself :) (I know that my grammar is horrible X haha)

  3. I lived in the U.S. with my husband and children for a year. My children were in the first and second grade and they didn't care about making mistakes at all! They just enjoyed playing with friends and learned English very very quickly. But adults are different. We tend to make groups with people who are from the same countries because it's easy. I really wanted to learn English and make American friends because our stay was only one year so that tried to talk to Americans often even though I had no idea what they were saying when they talked in a group. Sometimes I felt as if I became stupid, but I tried not to think about it. If you don't have enough motivation, it might be difficult to join foreign groups, but if you try, I'm sure that it is worth for learning language.

  4. I think that going abroad to study enlish is good idea. Each year, Many Koreans have gone to U.S.A or U.K to study english. Some of them waste a lot of time and money by getting together mostly with Korean. But others have learned english as well as culture while staying in U.S.A or U.K. There are many cultural differences between U.S.A and korea that people studying english in Korea doesn't know if they just study english in Korea. And they also broaden their perspectives toward the world.

  5. I teach French in a latin american country and people often say "You speak very well..How long did you live in France?". In fact I´ve never been abroad. I had good teachers and I practiced a lot with natives when I studied languages at the university. I think that motivation is essential.
    It is important to mention this because I see all the time that many people in my country are convinced that the only way to learn languages is going abroad, it helps a lot yes and it is a wonderful opportunity to learn about culture and language itself, but they are wrong because it is possible to have a good level by practicing at home. On the other hand, I´ve seen cases of people who had been in France or in USA and do not have a good level in French or in English.
    att: Raul

  6. I’m due to finish university in a year or so and am considering going backpacking across Asia, iv heard the countryside is beautiful and the people are so spiritual I think it could be an amazing opportunity to see the world. However I can only speak English and basic French, does anybody know if I would need to learn Thai? Another problem is how to go about learning the Thai language, or any other language that I would need! Is there any good language learning software available that’s pretty cheap?

  7. Study abroad is not easy as we think because when you come to abroad and you go to a high school which is easy for you to pass. But the higher studies like universities and collages are the most difficult studies for the students came from abroad and to let you know that high school is not very easy too but the students who came from pakistan or india or china they studied that all stuff in their 6th 7th 8th grade back in their country so the only problem they use to have is language which is a big problem. for a student who dont know the language and still trying to study and struggle their it is a big deal for him and for you guys . thank you

  8. I am a teacher of english and I try hard to improve my language skills.I did two diploms in teaching TEFL.I also prepare myself to TOEFL exams. I also contact native speakers .however , I think travelling to the U K will help me much to master listening and speaking as I will be involved in real communicative situations. in addition to this I will experience the culture aspect there ,that will broaden my vision of the whole process.

  9. i think going abroad is a good point, a good experience to realize. i didn't spend much time abroad but if i could i will take the oppportunity.
    the drawbacks i can easily think of would be the fear not to be part of the community. i mean, be a marginal. to learn English abroad or an other language is really helpful. we can reproduce, be influenced in the way to speak. so be filled wit the culture etc

  10. Hey,
    My name is Kuba and I am from Poland. I think you are totally right! I was living in Brussels for 6 months and I got a lot of international friends there. Thanks to that I was practicing my English skills all the time and right now I feel pretty fluent in it. However, currently w I am working in Barcelona (company language is English), living only with Poles, so I don't have a lot of Spanish language contacts. Because of that I couldn't see any progress in my Spanish:/... my girlfriend took a Spanish course few months ago and I can see that it is 10 times less difficult to learn a foreign language if you have already some grammar etc basics. I checked some student testimonials on http://www.languagecourse.net/templates/multilingual/indiv_eval.php3?school_id=600&page_language=en and I am mad at myself that I did not decided to take a course. I am sure that with some basic vocabulary it will be possible for me to learn it... now after few months I am about to leave Barca wit 0 Spanish skills and it is really depressing. so guys, my advice is to learn basics and than practice as much as possible with locals, etc.
    anyway, thanks very much for this article and website.
    take cars,


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