Why moving to a country may not lead to learning the language & what learners & expats CAN do
by BENNY LEWIS
A lot of people are a bit fuzzy about this so I want to make it absolutely clear: If you move to a country for a few months (or even years) it’s very possible you will NOT learn the language.
Out of all the advice I give on this blog, based on my lifestyle you would think that “move to the country that speaks it” is on my top to-do list for aspiring language learners? Absolutely not!
Why is this?
While it’s too simple to say that they are lazy, I think this does contribute quite a lot to it.
- The number one reason is excuses. They “don’t have the language gene“, they aren’t smart enough, they have a bad memory, they’re too old, or invent other bogus excuses like not having time. They never really try. They think too much about why they’ll fail and never get out of this terrible pessimistic mindset. Also, no matter where I go in the world it’s funny that there happens to always be the country with the “most difficult language” in the world.
- In many countries they delude themselves into thinking that “everyone speaks English”, even in countries where almost nobody outside of the tourist industry can speak more than rudimentary English. (With people’s basic English skills of a few phrases to help them sell things to rich foreigners being blown out of proportion).
The main problem is that they have carefully moulded themselves into an English-speaking bubble so they are caught in a vicious circle that constantly provides them proof of why English is all you need. It’s nothing more than a self-fulfilling prophecy. If all your friends are other foreigners, or locals that work in tourism, or who are university educated and perhaps using “socialising” with you for free English practice, and you eat in the same places etc. this says nothing about the vast amount of the country you’re ignoring. These people seem to be blissfully unaware of the possibilities and advantages of a life without English.
- Even in northern European countries (like the Netherlands) where English is indeed widespread (although I can confirm that I have met Dutch people who are uncomfortable speaking English and relieved that I speak Dutch to them), expats use the excuse that nobody will speak the language with me! Well, I have yet to find a single Dutch person that has spoken English to me when it’s clear I want to speak their language. It’s amazing, but simply trying to roll your Rs could hide the fact that you’re an English speaker; they are so used to lazy English speakers, that out of force-of-habit they’ll switch when they hear an English accent. Apart from that that there are many ways to convince them to help you.
- The “I’ll do it later” issue. You arrive and you have to sort out accommodation, make friends, get used to the city etc. You’ll start next week! But next week you have to get started working or studying in university – this weekend then! And so on. It gets postponed so far that eventually you know it’s never going to happen. This is especially true as you tend towards making other foreign friends, which is “easier” without working that extra bit hard to make local ones instead. This is why speak from day one is not just a good strategy, but a good routine to get yourself into immediately.
Speaking is the key, not being in the country
Right now in my life, I enjoy moving to different countries and getting to know locals by learning their language; usually to levels that allow me to ultimately have very deep conversations with them. But this is my style of travel; “language tourism” or whatever you may call it. I’m a traveller and interested in social aspects of culture, well before I would ever call myself a language learner. Languages will always be a means to an end for me.
full article – guardian