Published on December 10, 2014

Learning a second language abroad


If you have decided to intern abroad in order to improve your second language, congratulations! Finding an opportunity in a country that speaks your second language is a necessary step to ultimately become fluent. However, the work isn’t over! If you really want to become fluent in another language, it will take more than just going to another country. Below, I have listed some tips to help you learn your second language while interning abroad.

1.Take advantage of language-learning exchanges.

Many big cities have weekly events focused on language exchange! These events often last a couple of hours and allow time to mingle and switch between your native language (to help others who are trying to learn it) and your target language (to allow you to practice with native speakers). English-Spanish language exchanges seem to be especially common, but it’s worth looking to see what’s available for whatever language you hope to practice!

2.Be intentional about learning something new everyday.

To ensure that you learn something new everyday, you must be active, not passive, in your learning. For example:

-If you are speaking with someone in your second language and don’t understand something, don’t be afraid to tell them that you don’t understand or to ask them to repeat it.

-Ask your local friends to correct you when you make mistakes in conversation.

-One of my friends on my study abroad program in Buenos Aires, Argentina, used to carry a small notebook around the city with her to jot down words and phrases that she heard and wanted to look up later. I regret not doing this! Taking notes like this is especially useful if you want to learn local slang or to get a better understanding of popular topics of conversation.

Be intentional about your language learning, rather than just expecting it to happen naturally. You will come out of your abroad experience significantly more advanced in your second language!

3.Go beyond bar or club conversations.

Certainly, going out to the bars or clubs gives you lots of chances to practice your second language with new acquaintances. However, make sure that this isn’t your primary means of practicing your target language. Bar/club conversations tend to cover the exact same topics every time (where you’re from, what you’re doing abroad, what you think of the city, etc.), so be sure to also seek out relationships that go deeper. Make plans to hang out with a new acquaintance-- for example, going to the park or cooking dinner together-- and you’ll get better language practice and also develop a friendship!

4.Seek out a community.

What do you like to do in your spare time at home? Now, look for that hobby in your new city, and it is likely that you will find it-- plus a group of people with whom to enjoy it! Whether you decide to join an ultimate frisbee team, a poetry group, a gym, or a church, finding a local community centered around what you like to do will enable you to practice your second language in a comfortable, fun environment and to make friends who have similar interests.

Whether you plan to do an internship in Madrid, Colombia, or Hong Kong (as an English speaker), or London or Australia as an English language learner, these tips will serve well for growing your language abilities. If you have friends who have previously learned languages abroad, I would recommend asking them for tips as well, as there are thousands of language-learning methods to try! Apply now for one of our award winning international internship programs to develop and perfect your language skills!

The author
John Monahan
Before joining The Intern Group in 2014, John held senior positions in the investment operations field, including Senior Manager for Investment Application Services at Liberty Mutual (one of the USA’s largest insurance companies), and AVP at Bank of New York-Mellon. John holds a Bachelor of Liberal Arts degree from Harvard University with a field of study in Economics, which he earned while working full-time. A travel enthusiast, John has visited over 30 countries, and believes deeply in the value of international experiences as a lever for educational, professional, and personal growth.

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