Top tips from other expats for learning a new language

Some people seem to have an innate language learning ability, while others struggle to learn a few basic sentences. Though it may seem unfair to you that you struggle to order a beer while your friends babble on in well-constructed sentences, the learning tips are the same for all.

Young woman studying at a desk

Someone once told me that if you did not crawl as a baby you might not be very good at learning a new language. I told that to my husband, who has tried to learn French and Spanish for years, and low and behold he was a “bum-shuffler” – he never crawled. (Apparently some research was done in Sweden years ago which found that if you didn’t learn to do the opposite leg/arm action when a baby i.e. crawl, certain learning pathways would not develop in the brain. Voilà!)

I’m by no means bilingual in any language – but I can chatter in Spanish and French. For me, the most important path to learning has always been to have a go and never worry about what the locals think about my pronunciation. Instead I ask if it’s correct after I’ve tried. So that’s my top tip.

language learning books

I’ve asked other expat friends what their language learning tips are. Here are the best  ideas:


Once you have moved to a new country, learn with locals. If possible sign up for a total immersion course.

Start with the basics

Don’t get too worried about all the grammar to start with but do learn a good solid foundation so that you know where and how to “hang” all your future learning. (Some courses don’t teach grammar at all. Personally, that doesn’t work for me, as I like some structure.)

Always carry a pocket dictionary or the online version

When you look up a new word, write it down in a daily vocab compiler. The act of writing a word down will help you remember it a lot better.

Find a language buddy

Either find another expat trying to learn the same language or date someone who only speaks your target language.

Use local resources

Listen to local radio in the car, watch local TV at home and read local publications.

Practice makes perfect

Practice every single day, however short the phrase or time you spend talking speak in the new language from Monday to Sunday.

Speaking to yourself is not the first sign of madness

If you’ve got no one to practice on, speak to yourself – even in front of a mirror!