I have always wanted to learn a language abroad. I wanted to actually be in a country and talk to native speakers. Now, I’ve been in and out of the Netherlands for about 6 years. In the last 3 years, I have made the Netherlands my home. If you’re unfamiliar, the Dutch have a law that says I must pass the inburgeren examen (integration exams). Most of the exams have to do with the language.
Now I am forced to achieve my dream to learn a language abroad!
I have a pretty ‘type A’ personality and stressed myself out for most of the first year trying to be perfect at the language, but then I realized that closing my self off and stuffing my nose in a grammar book was not the best way to learn.
Here are some things I did to learn Dutch.
How to learn a language abroad
This might be an obvious start, but I went back to school. I found a program at a university, and for university graduates, to learn Dutch. The higher level and faster pace classes were more attractive and challenging to me, and, I think, ultimately helped me pass my exams.
The point is, find a class that fits your needs, your study style, and your level. Otherwise, learning will not be fun.
School is also a great place to meet other language learners. It’s always great to have friends who are going through the same things.
After my first 2 semesters, I still felt I wasn’t any good at the language. It was a struggle to hold everyday conversations with people around town.
Reading and grammar were no problem (elementary grammar-Dutch grammar is extremely complex!).
The only way I was actually going to learn is if I surrounded myself with Dutch people. But a lot of people are good English speakers, so I needed an outlet where no one would speak English with me.
I started volunteering at a nursing home. It was wonderful. Most of the people living there never learned English, or if they did, they couldn’t remember much. Additionally, most of the staff did not feel confident enough to converse in English and they knew I was learning Dutch.
Volunteering at the nursing home helped me greatly. I worked there 6 months and learned more than I did in one semester at school.
What do you love to do? Use your passions to learn a language overseas! Find a club, choir, a fitness class, etc. to help you learn the language. You will make friends, learn the technical terms of your hobby, and you’ll have fun!
I love to sing, so I joined a choir. Now I have Dutch friends who love to sing just as much as I do and I get to work on improving my Dutch in a laid-back setting.
I know I said at the beginning that stuffing my nose in a grammar book was not the best way to learn. However, reading literature has great benefits in general. It improves your knowledge, grammar, writing, voice, and imagination. Now take all those benefits and put them towards your second language. You’ll learn grammar, writing, and voice in your second language all while being challenged and using your imagination. Sounds great to me!
When I first started learning Dutch, I read children’s books every day. Now I read the weekly newspaper and can read more advanced books. I also did very well on my Dutch reading exam.
5. Find a Language Friend
My language friend is a wonderful woman in her 70s who loves to spend time talking to Dutch language learners. We get together for tea and chat about anything and everything. She speaks little to no English, which is really great for me.
Some cities offer services to match learners with native speakers.
Do you want to learn a language abroad?
Or have you been studying a language overseas? What worked for you? What didn’t work?
xo, Erin Kay