5 Things Moving Abroad Has Taught Me About Learning a Language

5 things moving abroad taught me about learning a language

Hello Dreamers,

As some of you may or may not have noticed, I’ve been MIA for a few months now. I think the last post I made was in December or January, and now it’s almost August! Yeah… That’s on me, but I promise you I have not abandoned this site or journey. I am currently working on new posts and a few reviews (with additional flashcards) that I hope to be posting within the next few weeks.

So, what happened? In short, I started a completely new job with no prior experience in the field, and on top of that, I moved to a completely different country whose first language isn’t English. They do teach English beginning in elementary school, but the majority of people I have spoken to are rarely about to say more than a few simple words. If you know anything about me, you would know how much moving into this completely new environment and situation tips the scale of my general and social anxiety. Granted, I had been studying the language before moving, but my proficiency level is nowhere near conversation level. Now, I would like to give you the run down of how I have integrated myself into this new environment, but if you’re like me, you came for the title, want to get in to it, and don’t care as much about the backstory. So, I will cover my experience in more details in a different post.

So, let’s talk about the top 5 things I’ve learned since moving abroad as a native English speaker!

*** NOTE: This is MY personal experience based on the country I’ve moved to. ***


5. English Signs and Titles Exist!

One thing I was worried about when thinking about moving abroad what finding my way around, especially during the times I didn’t have a phone plan. Luckily, the city where I was positioned and many of the small towns I have visited have had signs with the native language and the romanization letters under it, which is a major life-saver when I’m in a hurry and can’t read the signs in the native language as quickly as I would like. The moral of the story: don’t worry about getting too lost as long as you know which direction you’re heading, because you should always be able to find a sign you can read to point you in the right direction.


     This also includes many of the restaurant and store signs. In my city, many of the newer businesses have a Korean and English title so natives and foreigners can read the sign easily (as long as you know one of the two languages). Unfortunately, many of the older businesses don’t have english writing to explain what they are, but a simple option is to pull up one of the navigation/map applications you use, find the restaurant on the map, and check out the photos other people have posted. I’ve found a few new places in my 5 months here that way since I’m not as familiar with all of the typical Korean foods that are served in my area (or I’ve had them but can’t remember the name).

In doing all of this, it will help give you a side by side comparison of the English name to the native name so you will be able to read the native text easier and recognize the place quicker the next time you’re traveling or see it somewhere else.


4. Most Major Websites Have an English Version.

You read this point and probably thought “Z, of course most of the major websites have an English version. English is basically the world language.” Well, my friend, I thought about how it was such a convenience when it comes to my online shopping, and then I had this idea…  The website was originally in my target learning language and the language I have to use here. So… Why not try to learn the names of different furniture, beauty products, and more in a side-by-side comparison of the native site and the English site?!? Not only is it an almost direct translation, there’s a photo and description to go with it! It’s like a gold mine to learn useful ways of describing things! Also, I have to buy most of these products for my everyday life, why not learn the descriptions from the comfort of my own home instead of looking at different brands at the store and trying to piece together the words I know to figure it out?

Don’t believe me? Try it! Find two websites, one in your native language and one in your target language, compare the two, write down your discoveries, and post your results in the comments!


3. Language Resources Are Available.

Something I have realized in the short time I have lived in Korea is that there are tons of resources available for foreigners to learn the language. Again, it may be different for different countries, but being here I have been able to find multiple resources to be able to learn the language. One of which I honestly didn’t expect – the bookstore. Yeah, I know. It’s a bookstore; of course it should have language books. You’re not wrong, but my mind was thinking, “Well, it’s a different country and a bookstore, not really a language focused store.” I was completely wrong. There is literally an entire section dedicated to learning the language, and it’s filled with learning books for multiple learners.


     Another resource that is probably available in more places than you think is a language exchange company. Many people normally do one-on-one (1:1) language exchanges, which is great, but at this company in particular, you have 1:1 tutoring in your native language and then participate in a group discussion in English. Not only is it a great way to learn the language, it’s also a great way to meet new people, both native speakers and English speakers. The best part about it (other than the whole language aspect and making friends thing) is that it’s FREE! Well, almost. Their clause is that you have to give them a set amount of money when you start, but once you leave they return the money to you. So, it’s more of a psychological incentive rather than an actual payment. The idea is to make the participant remember that they paid money to do this to motivate them to work harder, even though they get their money back at the end of the journey.

The last set of resources I want to mention are structured language classes. These will be in a more typical “class” setting, unlike the language exchange I mentioned above. There are multiple ways to find classes. You can pay to take them, or you can look for free classes. For example, I’m lucky enough to have the opportunity to take classes for free through my employer, but to be honest, I want to but don’t because the place where the classes are held in approximately an hour bus ride away and I only have about an hour to get there from my job before the classes begin. So, I respectfully declined when the classes were offered; I do not want to be late or have to pay that cab fee every week.

Still on the subject of classes, a friend of mine sent me the information for classes that are actually given for free by the government. Normally, I’m hesitant to sign up for something from any type of government, but the free classes she told me about also double as a requirement for a permanent residency visa. Taking that into consideration, the classes must be good considering they’re a requirement to get a visa, but I guess I’ll find out more once she begins the classes. So, try looking into your country’s visa requirements. Maybe they’ll also offer classes similar to these or be able to point you into the direction you need for other classes.


2. Translating Software Will Be Your Best Friend.

I’m the type of person who would try to communicate in the target language (the language of the country I’m in) or not try and just figure it out myself. My friends, I have learned a hard lesson through my experience here – translation software is your best friend in a foreign country. Don’t 100% depend on it all the time, but it will save you in many situations.

From the experience I’ve had from traveling abroad and now living abroad, I have learned something very important: unless you have studied the language for years or have memorized the questions and responses to multiple everyday questions, there will still be a high probability that you will get stuck while having a conversation or asking for something. The reason I say this is because I have had questions I’d never thought about asking before I moved here like “Where do I put the trash?” or “Which is laundry detergent and which is fabric softener?” Yeah, asking where something is and asking the price of something is definitely vital, but it’s also the little things that will make a difference in your quality of life while abroad. In this type of situation, just use a translator to help lessen the confusion, but don’t only use it for a one-off conversation. Screenshot the sentence or write it down and memorize it later, especially if it’s a common question you ask.


Another way you can use a translator is to literally type in everything you see and write it down. For example, I am sitting in a cafe writing this now, and I see more than 20 words or phrases I could write down in this single instant. Imagine if you go to a different cafe every weekend and found 20 more words. Translation software is extremely versatile and can be used in many ways to increase your vocabulary in the long run.


One more thing… Make sure to check the entire translation page for more versions of the translation, example sentences, and more!



1. People Are Actually Nice and Willing to Help!

This is the most important lesson I’ve learned so far since moving abroad, and it has been the hardest to come to terms with and not think about. I have this bad habit of people-pleasing and worrying about offending someone by saying the wrong thing, because I like to keep the peace. Unfortunately, keeping to yourself and efficiently learning a language don’t always go hand in hand. Eventually you have to start speaking to someone to improve and enhance your speaking ability. As an introvert with social anxiety, that’s not my cup of tea, but through my experience here, I have learned that most of the worry was for nothing.

Most of the people I have attempted to speak to here are normally patient and will wait for me to figure out what I need to say. I have met many younger people who have been patient and will try to help, but I think the happiness/excitement the older individuals have shown by me just saying something simple has swayed my opinion just a bit. 🙂 Overall, I have only had one not-so-great experience since I’ve been here, but the majority have been super nice and have unknowingly begun erasing my fear of trying to speak to natives, even if it’s in small bits of vocabulary I know, instead of always feeling like I have to be “by the book” correct.

Another amazing thing that I wasn’t expecting at all was the willingness for natives to help you learn the language. Again, I see this more from the older generation than the younger, but there are exceptions. The times I’ve experienced this, they always teach the same thing “boy”, “girls”, “sister”, “brother”, etc. I think I’ve learned how to say immediate family member names at least 5 times now from 5 different cab drivers and store clerks, but that doesn’t matter as much to me as the fact that they are taking time out of their day to try to teach, and essentially help, someone become more familiar with their language and culture. The take away from this section is to not be afraid to speak to natives. They understand you’re not a native speaker and may not get everything correct, but they are extremely happy that you’re trying. If you do happen to run into someone who gets irritated with you trying to speak, don’t take it personally; they’re just rude and don’t deserve your precious time anyway!

In summary, moving abroad has taught me a lot. I’ve only been in a foreign country for 5 months, but I have learned lessons that I can use for a lifetime. Don’t let your fear get in the way of achieving your dreams and accomplishing your goals. You are responsible for your own life and what you achieve. Here are the 5 things I talked about in this post once again as a quick reference and summary:

  1. People are generally nice. Try to talk to them when you can, and if they have an attitude, move on to the next person. Clearly they’re not worth your time anyway.
  2. Translation software will be your best friend. Not only will it save you from confusion in different situations, it’s a good way to expand your vocabulary and learn the sentences you use frequently.
  3. Language resources are available, you just have to know where to look. There is a high probability that there will be some type of resource, whether it be books, a language exchange, or classes, where you live. Seek out available resources through foreigner sites or a simple internet search.
  4. Learn through website translations. Try comparing and learning about different products through a country’s website in their native language and your native language. Not only will you learn new vocabulary to describe items, you might also find something cool to add to your own life.
  5. Use road, restaurant, and store signs to your advantage. Many of these signs have english translations, or you can use your translator *hint hint*  to learn new vocabulary words relating to the businesses for better recall when you see the same or same type of store.


That’s it! Thank you for taking the time to read this extensive post; I hope you read something valuable or interesting in it. If you have any other suggestions for posts you would like to see, language learning techniques, or would like to share your own living abroad or language learning story, please comment below!




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