misconceptions about language learning

Misconceptions about Language Learning #8: Without Moving Abroad, you will Forever Miss Out

A lot of prominent language learners on the internet are expats of some kind. Some have been on the road for years like Mau Buchler, others like David Mansaray are posting about their experiences of living in a different country. It’s completely reasonable to assume that language and this sort of mega-immersion of living abroad are inextricably linked, but as a learner could this mindset be putting a bit of pressure on you? Instead of busting a myth as I usually do, my aim today is to make you consider a different angle of language motivation.

Cultural generosity

Certainly, my own motivations in language learning were not life changing at first. Languages are a great thing to learn if you’re into finding out more about people, and later it was all about connecting with music in the target language. These days I teach many native English speakers who are learning the language of places they may have not seen for real yet. They are learning for many valid reasons such as travel and moving abroad but also fun, personal interest and growth.

I felt that Harry Eyres recently went ahead and summed this up so well in a recent Financial Times article. Here is why I learn languages – not because I want to travel and live everywhere but because:

Learning and speaking foreign languages [..] is also an act of cultural generosity, a way of opening yourself to others, of learning about the rich variety of the world. It is an acknowledgment that there is a multitude of ways of being and expressing oneself, all of which have untranslatable nuances.

Nothing wrong with the stationary language learner

If you are reading about language learning methods and feeling like you’ll never do this right if you don’t re-root your whole life to another country…Don’t worry, you are normal, or at least I’d say I’m like you. The study of languages is interesting, stimulating and enriching for me, and so what if I don’t have a trip to Moscow booked. I’ll get there when I want to, not because I feel that I won’t manage to learn Russian without it.

Here are my three top reasons for being proud if you’re a stationary language learner:

  1. You get to be the guide. Travel can have its escapist downside and I quite like the place where I live. I am enjoying getting to know it even better, and look forward to the day when I can show a guest around speaking Russian or Spanish. Do you agree that this is every bit as cool as being the one who moved to a foreign country?
  2. You are more independent from externally imposed performance measures and you can set your own pace of language learning. Nobody should tell you which CEFR you’re supposed to be at after x months. I’ve seen many dedicated learners lose their confidence over this, which is still incredible to me.
  3. This is the 21st century. You can connect with other learners. Other travellers. Other teachers. With anyone living on the other side of the world with free tools as simple as video chat. No need to take your family and your life and shift to another country just for the sake of improving your language skills.

Even if you will never visit your target language’s country, you are still growing and learning and the number of stamps in your passport is nobody’s business but yours. Enjoy the freedom of finding your own way.

Picture by Michal Osmenda from Brussels, Belgium [CC-BY-SA-2.0], via Wikimedia Commons

  • Hi Kerstin! Thanks for the mention in the article. I have to say I agree with you 100%. Living in a country to learn a language is overrated. That’s not to say that it’s not helpful, but people think that it is a magic formula, but it isn’t.

    You have to work just as hard when you are immersed in a language, and often I find myself having to work harder. Learning a language in a country where it’s spoken can be stressful and is perhaps not for everyone. It can be especially discouraging if you’re a person who takes failure badly. I think learning in an immersion environment works best for those who are able to embrace failure as the learning tool that it is.

    Many people will find the control they have over how they learn in thei home country is more comfortable and encouraging. Of course, going to the country for a period of time is helpful for all and especially useful for those who are at the intermediate stage and beyond.

    What’s important for people to know who are learning a language in their home country is that going to a country where the target language is spoken is not a magic formula. A country is a tool, a powerful tool, but it takes time to learn how to control that tool.

    My advice to all would be to learn as much as you can in your home country so that when you finally go to a country where the language you are learning is spoken, stress is minimised because you are in a better position to take advantage of the aforementioned powerful tool.

    Good luck all!

    • Kerstin

      Hi David, thank you so much for the thoughtful comment! In fact, I can’t think of anything to add – in my own experience, I can guarantee you I was as good as it gets (IELTS 9) before I even moved to England. Yes, I learnt a lot here, but it was not because I relocated.

  • zeenat

    i really inspire , sometime i thought that i’ll never become a better english speakers , many words dance around me and pass out , but your blog give me a suggaestion , that i have to choose my own way not the other people , very soon i will become a good speaker , thank you for help ,

    • Kerstin

      Well done zeenat, keep it up!

      (I love the image of dancing words that pass out 😀 “pass out” can be used like “faint” in British English)

  • zeenat

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