Choosing to learn a new language abroad can open up new career opportunities, allow you to travel more extensively, help you connect with your family heritage, or simply indulge your love of a new language.
If you are already studying a foreign language, jumping into a full immersive experience is one of the most comprehensive ways to achieve fluency. Knowing another language is essential for a career in translation or interpretation, and valued for a career in international business or tourism.
Linguistic majors will find that courses that they'll take overseas will provide an enriching and more comprehensive element to their education. Though these may require prior knowledge in the language of instruction, they'll offer a unique perspective on a language you may not get to study at home.
You don’t have to learn another language to study language, and the field of linguistics is a fascinating topic. Linguists study the differences and similarities between language families, as well as the evolution of language.
A number of English language universities around the world offer linguistics programs, while foreign language universities often offer programs in English from Masters level or higher. If you have prior experience in a foreign language, you can take courses examining the linguistics of that language, too.
Taking an immersive language course while living in that language is one of the fastest ways to reach fluency. Being surrounded by the target language -- at the supermarket, on the bus, and passing your neighbors in the hallway -- means that every daily activity becomes a practice session.
Part of learning another language is learning about the culture it comes from. English is unique in that it is spoken in so many different countries around the world, as most languages are tied to a particular country or geographical area. Learning about a new culture, cuisine, and art is a necessary part of an introduction to a new language.
Programs in Another Language
Studying a program in another language, rather than studying the language itself, is one way to move beyond just practicing and really start using your new skills. Taking a course taught in another language isn’t for beginners, as you will need skills developed enough to be able to understand your professor.
Universities typically require at least one year of college credits in that language. Be prepared for additional reading and homework while you get up to scratch with your language level.
Where to Go
Your choice of language will influence your study abroad destination, but there is still some flexibility as to where you go. German, for example, is spoken in Germany, Switzerland, Austria, Liechtenstein, and the South Tyrol province in Italy. While Portuguese and Spanish are spoken both in their countries of origin in Europe, and in South America.
The availability of programs and universities will influence where in a particular country you can study. Keep in mind that although there will be more study abroad students in bigger cities, cities that are also popular tourist destinations will also have more inhabitants who can speak English. More practice opportunities often present themselves in smaller towns, where the locals are less likely to speak English.
Here are some of our picks to help you out:
Linguistics programs are offered in English language universities around the world. But the English spoken down under has an unmistakably Australian tilt to it. Australian slang will take a bit of getting used to, but they'll add an interesting twist to your linguistic courses.
When looking at overseas semesters, remember that in the Southern Hemisphere, the seasons are reversed. So a fall semester (July to November) will actually take you from winter to spring.
Head to Tokyo (or one of Japan's other major cities) to study Japanese. Japan has a massive economy and is home to many international companies. If you hope to live in Japan or do business there one day, taking an immersive language course there now is a great start.
Japanese language programs usually include a cultural aspect, so you will also get some in-depth insights into Japanese culture, such as learning about the traditional tea ceremony. Programs offered include intensive summer courses for students at all levels and full academic years.
Italy is a big draw for American students looking for an overseas study experience, and it isn’t difficult to see why. Florence and Rome are the most popular cities, but don’t let that sway you. Every region of Italy is worth exploring, and basing yourself in a city or town further off the tourist trail only increases your opportunities for practicing Italian. Programs are available for a summer, a semester, or a full academic year.
Planning Your Trip
Most study abroad programs offer course credits, helping satisfy any requirements for graduation. If the course credits aren’t compatible with your degree program, you'll risk having to complete another semester at your home institution. Check with your major advisor to make sure all your credits are transferable between universities.
Some language programs and universities will have a prerequisite language level for students -- either a certain level of fluency or an amount of semesters studied.
The housing provided for study abroad students will depend on the university. Student housing is usually provided in a residence hall, a shared student apartment, or a homestay. In some cases, students will be required to find their accommodation independently. Many students enrolled in long-term programs often begin in student housing before moving into accommodation with friends.
A number of scholarships are available to students studying overseas. If you require financial assistance, talking to your home institution or program provider is often the best place to start. A number of scholarships are listed right here on Go Overseas, including a Go Overseas Study & Intern Abroad Scholarship.
Preparation is Key
Studying a language can be intensely frustrating. Wanting to tell a story or express yourself when you can’t find the words is difficult enough in English, but when you have only a rudimentary grasp on a new language those frustrations are multiplied.
No matter your language level, any practice and study you do before you go will be helpful a thousand times over once you’re in an intensive class and struggling with verb conjugations.
Watching foreign language films (with or without subtitles) or YouTube videos, reading online blogs and newspapers, and speaking to any language speaker you can find (all in your target language) will help you prepare. Don’t relax your practice once you return from your overseas experience, either. Joining a club or society, or keeping in touch with friends over Skype will help maintain those hard won language skills.
Try forming a language exchange with people in your host city to get some more language practice in, and make a friend along the way. In a language exchange, two people regularly meet to practice the other’s mother tongue. There are plenty of people who want to practice English, so take advantage of the opportunity if it comes up!
Almost every student will experience culture shock at some point during their study abroad experience. For language students overseas, not only is the language likely to be different, but also the food, culture, and style of dress. It helps to keep an open mind when arriving in a new country; expect to be surprised by everything.
To aid the settling in process, participate in any orientation activities offered by the host institution or program organizers. Make friends with local students, who will be able to help navigate you through any unfamiliar routines and places. Most of all, don’t forget to regularly check in with friends and family back home.