Talk Like a Local - Learning a Foreign Language

Published 2011-02-01 09:16:17

Greetings from Around the World - Speech Bubbles © iQoncept - FotoliaEnglish can take a traveler far. You can speak it in Shanghai, Los Angeles, London, Johannesburg, Auckland, or New York City for instance. Mandarin, Spanish, French, German, Italian can similarly carry a traveler to distant lands. But if you want to stay and become part of a place, learning the language is more than a necessary step. It is an essential tool to understanding your adopted culture and people.

Kolik jazyku znas, tolikrat jsi clovekem.
You live a new life or every new language you speak. If you know only one language, you live only once.
(Czech proverb)

In our new series of "____ Like a Local", we provide tips to avoid the worst faux pas and an overview of standards around the world. (For more tips on fitting in, read Eat Like A Local, Date Like a Local, Tip Like a Local, Stay Healthy like a Local, and Greet Like A Local).

Methods of Learning

Determining what kind of learning style best fits you will help you determine what kind of education you should pursue.


Otherwise known as the Hanafi method, this method does not focus on grammar and pronunciation. Vocabulary and phrases are the focus. As the learner becomes more comfortable, pronunciation and grammar comes easily. This method takes time and is best for people with a retentive memory that are surrounded by fluent users. If not in an area with foreign speakers, you can substitute foreign radio, movies, tv shows, and literature.


Treats language as a system of structurally related elements to code meaning. Grammar and some vocabulary is the focus as the language is taught from the bolts up. This is the most time-consuming method and requires a teacher. Emphasis is usually on the written language in the form of homework, tests, and course assignments.


This approach tries to combine other methods. Using interesting materials (texts, spoken word, video scenes) the learner is encouraged to talk about, write about, and act out the situations presented, using words, phrases and grammatical forms that occur naturally in the context. Requiring a teacher, this is the dominant method at schools.

Language Courses

Taking a course in foreign language is possible almost anywhere. Community colleges, universities, language centers, and private lessons are available for people in all price ranges. The prevalence of centers allows interested people to learn a language before leaving home, and then continue their studies aboard.

Most university level schools offer training every quarter. These are for students and non-students alike and tuition ranges. These courses are usually intensive, meeting everyday for several hours. Most students should come out with the ability to make basic conversation, or, for advanced courses, a more refined knowledge of grammar and specialized topics.

State run language schools are also common. These usually offer a limited range of languages, and may be for the primary purpose of educating its local population on the predominant language of the area. Thus- perfect for the expat! Courses are usually less costly than university classes or private language courses. Classes are available from beginners to advanced, with a preliminary test estimating what course a student should be in.

International chains also have an excellent record of helping dedicated students learn a language. Companies usually have courses for learners at all levels. Courses are usually taught using the companies's own course materials which can be a positive if they are effective, but beware schools with out-dated material.
One of the most well-known is Berlitz with more than 470 language centers spread over a total 70 countries.


Total immersion is one of the most embarrassing, but effective ways to learn a new language. It may be embarrassing to trot out your old high school French skills, but with enough determination and practice, you will be actually speaking French. It is hard not to learn a language if every trip to grocery store, movie theater, or step outside requires it.

    Tips for Immersion:
  • Go alone- to the market, on a trip, whatever! But always being with a friend will allow you to avoid speaking
  • Read the local newspapers, magazines, TV guide. It doesn't matter as much what you read, it is important to get a feel for the vocabulary native speakers use
  • Practice the unusual sounds of your new language. Practicing in front of a mirror can be helpful to watch your mouth form the necessary movements.
  • Watch TV & movies, or listen to the radio- this is one of the best ways to hear how people really speak
  • Write down words you encounter throughout the day that are unfamiliar. Practice them later
  • Try to get the melody of the language by listening to songs and singing with them.


The children of parents who speak different languages have been said to be the world's only "true" bilinguals. It can appear effortless as your child easily forms the most difficult pronunciations, makes friends, and navigates their surroundings. This is often due to the fact that children have a strong desire to "fit in", lack certain social anxieties, and are less embarrassed to make pronunciation and grammatical errors. Their simple ability to try until they get it right is one of the fundamental keys to making immersion work. Take a cue from the kids and just start speaking!

Language Exchange

The butcher might not be interested in explaining the different uses of a pronouns when you go to place your order, but an exchange partner can be an excellent resource for flushing out these intricacies in real life sceneries. A language exchange offers the chance for you to practice with a native speaker as they learn from you in tandem.

As an added bonus, language exchange partners can help you understand the culture of the area and inform you of local happenings. Questions about gift giving, festivals, nightlife, and greetings can be addressed without worry. In the best case sceneries, an exchange partner is not only your ambassador, but a friend.


Also- don't forget the Classifieds (Country/City/Conversation Exchange section) where people are frequently looking for partners to work on their language skills.You can also check on the EasyExpat's forums.


The helpfulness of flash cards cannot be ignored. Repetition, repetition, repetition! You can make them yourself, buy ready made sets of cards, or use flash card programs such as:

Online Courses

You can do practically anything online - even learn a foreign language. Different sites offer various methods of learning and most are FREE. To find an online course in almost in any language: or Babbel.


Podcasts have become a popular way of listening to your favorite shows, news, comedy programs, and audio books so of course there are loads of podcasts that teach language learning. Many are free, but most are inexpensive (under US$ 10). The site,, offers a comprehensive list of languages to learn. Itunes users can also find many programs at the Itunes store.


If you would prefer a set program and more elaborate features, there are innumerable programs that can be bought in practically any language. Many of these programs now interface with portable devices such as iPod Touch/iPhone/iPad etc. One of the most recognized tools is Rosetta Stone. It has been recognized as one of the most effective programs on the market, but has a hefty price tag. Programs are around US$ 200 with full packages costing US$ 1,000.

A comparison list can be useful in deciding the program for you.

Language Programs and Sites

For more "______ like a Local", check out:

Eat Like a Local


Author: EasyExpat
Community Manager

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