When you imagine a different life for yourself overseas, do you hear yourself speaking English, or do you visualize yourself conversing with the local people in their own tongue? Should you learn a new language when you move?
That’s a question only you can answer, and that answer will depend on several factors.
- What kind of expat are you? If you’re a cultural or missionary-type expat, deciding to learn the language will feel like a no-brainer to you.
- Will your work require it?
- Will you live among other expats, or will you live among the local people?
My husband and I will be moving to Latin America, and I’m excited about learning Spanish. (Would you care to guess what kind of expat I am?)
Taking an immersion course after you arrive in the country is an excellent way to acquire language skills, but what if you want to begin sooner?
Great news! You can start online before you ever leave home. Some sites are completely free and some you pay for. The best offer free lessons and give you the option to move to a more robust paid version.
My favorite is LiveMocha. There’s plenty of free instruction, with more available for a fee. After you study a lesson, you complete a written and a spoken assignment. Native speakers review them for you, which is extremely helpful. There’s also an active forum where you can interact in your own language and the language you’re learning.
Here are a few other websites to get you started.
My Language Exchange
Foreign Service Institute language learning This one’s a bit kludgy. It was developed at taxpayer expense for Foreign Service employees, and is available free for anyone.
BYKI offers free desktop software and access to an online community. Or you can upgrade to their Deluxe version for a fee.
Skype or VOIP-based Instruction
Some companies offer web-based individual instruction. For this they harness the power of Skype or other internet-based communications to let you work directly with an instructor. One such company is Ensemble en Francaise, where you can learn French.
The Mixxer facilitates “language exchanges” via Skype.
Learn OutLive also uses Skype for private lessons.
Even if you don’t get very far with the new language before you move, you’ll find it helpful to know a little basic vocabulary and common phrases.