How to make the most of your year abroad

I am currently one third of the way through my year abroad as a compulsory part of my languages degree. I’ve just spent three months living and working in France. I worked in a small town in Loire-Atlantique as an English language teaching assistant and I really enjoyed my time there! I thought I’d share some of my top tips of how to make the most of year abroad from what I’ve learnt so far!

Choose somewhere with not many English speakers

Obviously if you go to a big metropolitan city like for example Paris, it’s going to be much harder to speak French than in a little French town since most people will speak English. And one thing that’s always frustrating if you’re a English speaker abroad is that the second people realise, they give up on speaking their native language and immediately try and speak English with you, regardless of your intentions.

Therefore if it’s possible I’d definitely recommend going to a smaller town because there will be a lot more opportunities to speak the language you’re trying to learn because in most situations you’ll be forced to speak it as there is no other option.

Make foreign friends

Maybe this one sounds really obvious but I know people who go on their year abroad and live with other English people from their university and basically only really socialise with them. They will still be speaking the language when they’re working or studying but they’ll miss out on the chance for that everyday vocabulary and that causal chat.

So really make an effort to befriend people whose mother tongue is the language you’re trying to learn because they’ll be able to correct you and teach you all sorts of slang and other useful words. Equally, befriending people whose mother language is different to yours but they’re trying to learn the same new language as you can be really helpful.

I lived with a German girl whilst I was working in France on my year abroad and we only spoke French together in our flat because that was the language we had in common. Neither of us were perfect at it by any means and it was fairly common for both of us to use a translation app to search missing words but it really helped us improve our French. It meant pretty much all the time I was speaking, I was speaking French so I was forced to get better!

Attend a club or event

Attending a club or event can be a really great way to make new friends and learn specific vocab relates to things you’re interested in or passionate about. This could be anything from a sports team, a craft group, a book club or a local event.

For me, chances to do this was limited due to Covid-19 restrictions and eventually a second lockdown in France but I did attend both a local medieval festival and the local church a couple of times. The medieval festival was a little bizarre but fun to attend and I definitely learnt a whole pile of new niche vocab, as we watched the archery and the jousting. The local church was also really interesting as there’s a whole pile of specific vocabulary relating to faith and it’s always interesting to see how different cultures express their beliefs.

Consume local media – radio, tv, cinema etc

The best way to learn a language is to fully immerse yourself in it! This means as well as working or studying and socialising in the language, it can be really helpful to consume local media in the language as well. This could be watching the local news, listening to the radio, heading to the cinema, watching Netflix in that language or whatever you fancy really! Listening to or reading the news in your target language can really helpful because it will give you some useful and current vocab to use in conversation with people.

Note down your vocab

Hopefully if you’ve followed all the above steps, you will have learnt a whole pile of new vocabulary so the best thing to do is to write that vocab down! It’s up to you where you want write this down – I bought myself a little vocab book to write it all down it but equally you might want to just use a notes page on your phone. Sometimes, like when you’re watching TV, you might be able to note it down as you go but lots of the time, like when you’re working or at school, you might just end writing down all the words you can remember at the end of the day.

Do something with that vocab

Noting down your vocab is all well and good but if you do nothing with it, it will be of absolutely no use to you. Writing something down once doesn’t mean you’ve learnt it and by no means guarantees you’ll remember it. So what should you do with new vocab? Obviously that’s up to you and depends on what ways you find easiest to learn vocab. I, for one, am a big fan of Quizlet so I often add all the vocabulary I’ve noted down to a quiz set, which means I can revise them later and learn them while I’m on the go, as well being able to easily refer back to them as long as I have my phone on me.

Other vocab learning strategies might include writing the words down on post it notes and sticking them up around your room or you house. This might be particularly helpful if you’re learning the names of objects or things that exist in your house. You could also choose to stick up particularly important pieces of vocab up in high frequency places such as the fridge or the bathroom mirror. This means you can revise the vocab every time you’re in that place, which is likely to be often!

So those are my top tips for how to make the most of your year abroad!

Have you ever studied/worked abroad?

Do you have any other top tips to share?

7 comments

  1. I’d love to go abroad and really immerse myself in a language. I’ve been trying to learn French, but it’s really hard to learn when I live in the UK and so only hear/watch things and speak in English!

    Katie | katieemmabeauty.com

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  2. These are such good tips! I was due to be on a study abroad year but it got cancelled due to covid! Immersing yourself in the culture and the language is so important, and helps a tonne!! Thanks for sharing!

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  3. I always wished I had opted to do a study abroad when I was at university – I think I would have picked the Netherlands as I’ve always wanted to go. However, I loved reading about your experience and it sounds like despite Covid that you are having an amazing time! Thank you so much for sharing.

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  4. I live already 3,5 years in Germany and as you can guess, german isn’t my native language! Due to that, to stay here, I needed to learn a lot, talk a lot, listen a lot, and be a socially active.
    But what I want to say, all your written tips are more than great! I have done everything you said and the result is very, very good! This is a must post for everyone living abroad!

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  5. Your tips are really helpful in learning a foreign language. I’m struggling for months learning Greek but I realize I didn’t put in much hard work. And as far as living abroad, it is good to have foreign friends and learn about the language and their culture.

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  6. I also did a year abroad in France for my Translation degree and wish I spent more time taking in the language by watching French shows etc. Some great ideas!

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