Learning English abroad

When students tell me, usually very excitedly, that they are going abroad on their vacation to study English, I have to admit that I usually rain on their parade. Most people think that studying abroad is essential in order to speak English well, and a great number of my students just can’t believe that the most I’ve spent abroad at one time was a month. But believe me, taking an English language course abroad may not be the best solution for you, and here’s why:

1) If you’re a beginner, you can learn here what they will teach you there. Beginner’s classes abroad will be practivally the same everywhere: lots of new vocabulary, some grammar rules and exercises, making a lot of mistakes and trying hard to understand the teacher and the listenings.  If besides all this you also have to struggle when you go home or when you go out to have some fun, it feels more like torture than learning!

2) 4 weeks are not enough. And most adults (at least most adults I know) can’t afford to stay much longer than that, either because of the cost or because they simply can’t stay away from work that long. And the international language schools know that, that’s whay they offer 4-week long courses. But the problem is that you will take some time to adapt to the new country, the local habits, the weather, the transportation system, the local accent, and you will only really start learning after this adaptation period is over. The lower your language level, the longer this period will be. So, you do the Math.

3) Brazilians are everywhere. And if you’re Brazilian, you know it: we stick together and we feel homesick, so it’s very easy to succumb to the temptation of speaking ‘just a little’ Portuguese… and when you realize it, you’re talking about soccer, the current soap opera, celeb gossip, and there goes your investment…

4) International language schools only have you for 1 month. So they don’t really care whether you learn or not. After 1 month, it’s up to your poor English teacher back home to try to pick up the pieces… You take a placement test the day you arrive at the international school and the next day you start your classes. If you complain that your class was too easy, they’ll move you up to a higher level. If you complain that your class was too difficult, guess what? Yes, they’ll move you down… So what’s the point? What’s the point of teaching the past participle (and using the grammar name!) to a student who can’t answer questions in the simple present? (Believe me, it has happened).

These are only some reasons why I think studying abroad is simply not worth it.

But that doesn’t mean you can’t learn when you travel abroad! Check out these pointers:

1)  Go somewhere you’ve always dreamt of going. Instead of looking for a place with a language school, go to that city you’d die to know (mine was NYC!) and enjoy your stay there! It’s a fact that you learn more and better when you’re having fun, so make the most of the experience and learning will happen as a consequence…

2) Mingle with the locals. Book a hotel away from the touristic center. That way you will have to take public transportation to see the sights and you will be exposed to tons of locals speaking naturally and fluently. What better model can you wish for? And after a few days, feel confident enough to start a conversation with someone, nothing complicated, just ask for directions comment on the weather. Before you know it, you’ll be talking to native speakers and learning – for free!

3) Take guided tours. They’re not overly expensive and they’re a great opportunity to learn English and to learn more about that place that you love so much.  Ask whether the guides are locals – they always have the best information about the city and they feel comfortable to speak without a script. And besides, they’re being paid, so they have to answer your questions and be friendly… Make the most of it!

4) Go to the supermarket. It’s one of the best ways to learn more about a country’s culture, trust me! That’s why you should try to stay at a hotel that offers a kitchenette, so you have to buy something for breakfast and some frozen food for dinner. That way you’ll have to read labels and choose groceries, and you’ll soon feel like a local yourself…


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