Why You Don’t Have to Quit Your Job and Move Abroad to Learn a New Language

Me in the standard Eiffel Tower pic
Me in the obligatory Eiffel Tower pic

As some of you may have noticed, I’ve taken a bit of time away from posting on the 9 to 5 Wanderer. This has been for a few reasons. First, work has been a bit insane over the last few weeks, and life sadly has been more 9 to 5 and less wandering. Secondly, glutton for pain that I am, I am taking two courses in addition to working full time, and our final exams are coming up. Needless to say, it has been intense. The first course is a statistical methods in econometrics class which as a math-hater, I swear I must have been delirious to sign up for, because it is entirely torturous. The second course, my French class, I adore, and is the topic of today’s post.

Travel blogging is chock full of articles about how in order to really learn a language, “one simply must go to the country and live among the people” in order to make it possible. When you’re a student, study abroad can be a great opportunity to do this, however, as we get older and transition from student life to post-grad life, taking four months off to move to a foreign country to “learn the language”, becomes increasingly unfeasible, both from a career advancement standpoint, and from a financial one. As someone very early in my career and just a little over a year into my tenure at my current organization, I’m pretty sure my boss would look at me as if I had two heads if I proposed such a leave of absence.

Having studied languages for years to varying degrees of success and having myself done the “move abroad” language acquisition method, I can categorically state that this is not the only way to effectively learn a language. It’s lots of fun and a great adventure, no doubt, but I’ve actually had some of my most successful language learning in a traditional classroom setting, in a plain old, un-glamorous, American classroom.

This brings me to my recent endeavor with French. Last summer I went to Brussels (a highly underrated European capital in my opinion). After numerous lunches and cafe visits and parties surrounded by people who spoke not only their native tongue and English, but also French, and having been told by an acquaintance that “Brussels is more culturally vibrant than Paris…if you speak French”, I decided then and there that I would not return to the city until I could speak the language.

I am fortunate in that I work at a university, and therefore have access to world-class nearly free education scheduled around my work hours. I understand that this is not the case for everyone, and that these courses sometimes don’t fit within the entry level budget. However, if you can find an affordable program, learning a new language can be an amazing way to gain a valuable new skill set, immerse yourself into a new culture, and prepare yourself for your next travel adventure, all from the comfort of your home city. It’s also a great way to make new friends, who chances are, share a lot of common interests like travelling and exploring new cultures.

Armed with my resolution to not return to Brussels until I spoke French, I enrolled in a beginner French course in the fall. Ten months and two classes a week, every week, plus hours of homework time in between, my French is progressing in leaps and bounds. I’m currently somewhere in between holding a basic conversation with someone in a shop, restaurant, or at a cocktail party, and having a simple business meeting in French.

One of the most exciting parts of this journey has been that in the process of learning French, I have become more deeply immersed in French culture than if I had just gone off and spent a week vacation in Paris. In learning the nuances of the language, I have gained insight into French life, and subsequently, have become a sponge for all things related to France. I scan French magazines and receive news alerts from Le Monde, I listen to the news in French on my commute to work, and I attempt to practice with any poor unsuspecting Francophone that crosses my path.

This is not to say that moving abroad isn’t a great way to learn a language, but in my experience, it has been just as effective if not more effective to learn it here in Boston, and hasn’t cost me tens of thousands of dollars in salary lost and tuition fees that I would incur had I quit my job to learn French in-country (and at this stage in my career and financial circumstance, I wouldn’t even consider that a viable option to be honest). It has given me something to be excited and energized about while I am currently unable to travel as much as I would like, and I have no doubt will make my next trip to a Francophone country an infinitely richer experience.

Do any of you know of other affordable language programs in your home towns or cities? Have experiences travelling to countries where you do speak the language versus ones where you can’t? As I said, I know enrolling in a university language course is not necessarily the most affordable of options, and will be writing a future post on language tools and courses I have found useful in my quest to learn French. In the meantime, wish me luck on my finals!

As always, Happy Wandering! -xo

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8 Comments Add yours

  1. Moritz says:

    Very interesting approach. I totally understand what you are saying as I have the feeling that I’m learning some languages better in the classroom and others in the country. For example, my Polish is getting way better in the classroom, while my Spanish mainly developed in the country!

    Like

    1. Thanks for weighing in! Interesting observation about certain languages being better in the classroom vs in the country, I hadn’t thought of it from that perspective. For me, I think the major value added I find from learning in-country is the confidence factor. When you are forced to speak the language to get through the day, you get over your shyness about getting the grammar right rather quickly!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Moritz says:

        True words. I’m currently living on the German-Polish border and started learning Polish just six months ago. However, I’m getting more and more comfortable due to dining in restaurants, having drinks and stuff in Poland. That makes learning the language way easier 🙂

        Like

  2. painterwrite says:

    Having already studied Italian, I find French is much easier…except for the pronunciation. You can learn gobs of French from books, but those books aren’t going to teach you how to speak or listen to the language. Pimsleur CDs are great for some no-nonsense basics, but podcasts like Coffee Break French (in just the freebie versions) are more engaging and truly help with those tricky vowel combos! Great post!

    Like

    1. Thanks for the recommendations! I will have to check out Coffee Break French soon. I agree, the trickiest part with French is definitely getting the pronunciation down. I’m lucky that I have a great professor who has spent a lot of time painstakingly teaching us how to make them (although I’m sure my accent still leaves much to be desired). He told us that in the first few weeks our mouths would be sore as French uses different muscles to form sounds, and he was right! Languages are so fascinating 🙂

      Like

  3. Sartenada says:

    I am very happy that You learn new language. New language give so much that it is nearly impossible to understand it before studying. In Finland we have lean many foreign languages in our school. For example I learned, English, French, German and Swedish. Spanish I learned when I worked in Spain and I have been studying Portuguese since two years. During years I have “forgotten” German and Swedish. I understand them, but not able to make my blogs in them.

    So I blog in English, Spanish, French and Portuguese. To keep my skills updated, I use my smart phone or tablet where I read news and see TV-stations from abroad.

    Happy language learning!

    Like

    1. Wow, that is an impressive list of languages! I wish that we had more language teaching in school in the States, I managed to get through many years of Latin and Spanish, but not quite on par with Finnish schools; it sounds like they have a fantastic curriculum. And what a great idea of blogging in different languages to keep the skills fresh!

      Liked by 1 person

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