Monday, November 23, 2009

Hola, Hello, Bonjour, Bom Dia...

Unfortunately for a lot of people, moving to another country does not only mean they will have to cope with a different culture, but also a very different language. In many cases, they will have some knowledge of this new language, enough that they are able to at least "survive" in their everyday life. However, these limited skills represent a huge barrier when all you want is to meet people and make friends as soon as possible to be able to start feeling "at home" in your new home.

Here are some tips on how to start communicating in your new language when your skills are minimal and how to take the best out of the situation:

1. Don't be shy. That is rule number one. If you want to succeed you have to take risks and you have to look for opportunities to try to communicate. You will make mistakes and you will feel embarrassed, but it is the only way (and the most effective) to learn. Always remember that your ultimate goal is to make friends and feel a part of this new community.

2. Use a lot of gestures. Pick simple, universal gestures to help express yourself when trying to communicate. Sometimes you will feel stupid, like some sort of clown, but believe me as soon as people begin to understand what you want to say, you won't care.

3. Take small steps, be patient. Start with the most basic everyday situations. Your first lesson can be to learn how to ask for directions. For one week, get out everyday and walk on the streets, read the signs, learn how to say "right" and "left". Try talking to people, asking for directions to a specific address; get in a taxi and try to get the driver to describe what he is doing while taking you to wherever you want to go, e.g. "I am turning left on ..." .

4. Go grocery shopping. One of the best places to learn a new language is the market. Everything you see has a sign, so you can get a lot of new words just by walking down the different aisles. Listen to the clerks greeting people and people asking questions about the products. You can also practice the colors and numbers and some adjectives to describe what you see.

5. Join a club. If you like hiking, or walking, or skiing, etc, join a club. You will meet people with the same interest and that will make it easier for you to communicate with them because the conversations can stay within the same context. They can start with very simple, basic sentences, and as you progress they can become more complex. Plus, you will start building relationships.

6. Avoid speaking your mother tongue. As much as you can avoid closing yourself up to new opportunities by hanging out with people who speak your native language. I know it relieves a lot of the stress and pressure and tiredness of this huge change, but it will not help you to adapt to your new world.

7. About watching/reading the news. A lot of people believe this is a very good practice tool, and it is, but only if you prepare yourself beforehand. It is very difficult to understand something you are not familiar with. My suggestion is, find a piece of news in your own language and then try reading it in the new language, you'll see how much more sense it makes.

8. Have fun. Don't suffer from this experience, don't do it because you have to, give it a purpose. Think of something you like doing and let the language be the means for doing it. Let's say you like biking, your first lesson will be to buy a bike, then to get a map of the paths and trails you will follow, then joining a biking club, etc. At the end you will realize how much you improved in the new language because you had to express yourself to be able to do something you wanted so badly.

9. Be a link in the chain. Once you have gone through this difficult experience and you have successfully adapted to your new culture and language, help other fellow expats by sharing the techniques that worked best for you.

10. If you are planning to take language lessons before you move, make sure you pick a conversational method that teaches you real life communication and that is able to adapt the program to your own needs.

Learning a new language should be fun, it is important to remember that. Never enroll in a program that you will hate after a while. There are tons of schools and methods out there, so make sure you choose the one that best suits your needs, interests and your own learning style. And if you are not the kind of person who can commit to a formal course (fixed schedules, structured materials, etc.), then make it your own personal adventure, you can make every daily situation a learning experience and every place and every person the perfect textbook.

blog comments powered by Disqus