Location-based language learning: pros and cons

There are few things as daunting as uprooting your life, and even more so when you don’t have the language to describe it.

Learning a language as an adult is often done for fun, or to keep your mind active during downtime. But if you’re moving to a different area which speaks a different language than you speak, learning that language becomes a necessity.

Like many adults, my schooling years had taught me that I had no great aptitude for languages – or so I thought. I learnt the rudimentary French to fulfill a language requirement but felt no passion or motivation to continue with the subject. This meant that by the time I relocated to a country where the language was foreign, there had been roughly 13 years where I had spoken no language but my native.

Many adults seem to have this mentality; that whatever lack of success they had with languages means they are just not skilled in that area. Fortunately, this is not true at all.

Learning a language through employment is a truly unique experience. Quite simply, the pressure to succeed is much higher than if you were to learn the same language as a child. Before you book your flight, make sure you learn at least the very basics of the language to get you through the travel. This means hello, goodbye, and the much touted, I don’t know what you’re saying. Having the foundation in place before you travel will help you start learning as soon as you touch down.

The Difficulties of Learning

One of the main difficulties of learning a language through employment is the standard of language you’ll be interacting with. Before you begin work, make sure to drive around and familiarize yourself with some phrases to flex your basic knowledge and learn enough to get through the day. By the time you start work, you should know enough to ease you into the environment.

Professional dialogue often has to balance objectivity, politeness, and more. Depending on your career choice, you are expected to reflect this delicate balance in both your speech and written skills. Within a single work day, you will most likely perform in casual conversation between co-workers, professionally written content, and formal verbal dialogue. Luckily, interacting with such subtle nuances early on in your learning will set you up for understanding how the language can be stretched to accommodate daily situations.

Avoid Passive Immersion

If you’re struggling to get a grasp on the language, it’s important not to cut corners. This means avoiding passive immersion as your primary method of learning. This method has become popular for its relative ease and more budget friendly costs. This essentially means to immerse yourself within an environment where the language is being spoken frequently. Ways of doing this can be by watching foreign language films or listening to the language as you sleep, which are popular for the lack of effort needed for the activity.

My own experience of passive immersion failed to yield real results. I tried it as a way to cut corners and ease my way into linguistics. Unfortunately, as soon as I arrived at my destination, I learnt it lacked tangible benefits. Passive immersion can increase your familiarity with a language’s accents and rhythms. but this won’t help you actually speak or understand it. However, It can be helpful if you already have a basic understanding of the language. This would allow you to pick out key phrases, intonations and practice them yourself. Unfortunately, you still need to actually learn the language in order to know how to interact with it.

Of course, passive immersion is also becoming popular as adults become dissuaded from classroom learning. In particular, it’s become evident that learning a language in a classroom environment is falling short of actually teaching the ways a language can appear in daily conversation. This doesn’t mean the practice is totally outdated; instead, a teacher can definitely help in building your understanding of the mechanics of the language.

Your knowledge of this will undoubtedly be essential in a work environment where professionalism and formality are often necessary for correspondence. But for the inevitable situations where you will need to understand the slang and informalities which riddle all languages, a teacher in a classroom can only teach you so much. And if you lack the drive to learn the language, it can be easy to fall behind in the subject. Within larger groups of students, there is also the risk that the course content will be too vague and generalized to aid your significant individual improvement.

Tim Ferris, a figure who has become known for his rigorous learning of languages, stresses the benefit of neglecting the classroom and adopting a more hands on approach. In terms of the workplace, this means a mix of active learning and passive immersion.

This is an example of why learning a language through employment is such a great way to learn a language. Not only does it place you in an environment where you will interact with language as it comes casually or formally, written or verbal, but it also pushes you to learn all of it with no room for excuses.

To help fill the downtime for when you’re not actually at work, use passive immersion but try to engage with it. A handy trick I used was making a note of some key phrases I heard throughout the day, writing them down and then translating them when I got home. Practice them back to yourself and see if you can integrate them in conversation. This is the primary benefit of passive immersion at your place of employment- the dialogue you will overhear at the office’s cafe will be different from that you hear during a meeting, letting you learn the spectrum of the language. Making a note of the most common phrases, the accents, and the intonations at these places will help strengthen your understanding of how the language changes to suit its environment.

Make Mistakes

One of the most valuable benefits of learning a language through work is that you will inevitably make mistakes. This can be embarrassing, and can even be a turn off from studying the language at all but it is an essential part of the learning process. Making mistakes and actively striving to correct them can only improve your skills in the language. Your ability to see where you have gone wrong will help you preemptively stop it from happening again. This is an essential skill in a workplace, and will help you think more deeply about the words you’re saying and how you’re saying them.

The workplace also forces you to regulate yourself against a real seat of reachable goals. Often when we learn a language, we can put off actually speaking the language by saying that we’re not ready. The very real pressure of a workplace means that setting goals is one of the most helpful ways of consistently improving your knowledge of the language. These can be goals for the end of the day, the week or even month. Rather than waiting until a nebulous and undefined point where you’ll be “ready” your integration within a workforce forces you to constantly be prepared for interactions and dialogues. Setting goals simply allows you to track your progress and keep an eye on how much further you have to go.

It’s clear that learning a language as an adult can seem a monumental task. Learning to do so at your place of employment is daunting, but it’s one of the only places which forces you past your excuses and lands you in the thick of it. No matter how intimidating it seems, learning through employment is one of the most beneficial ways to learn a language.

  • Marko Sanden ,

    Hi Siskia, Great piece! Aside from learning more about you which is always interesting, I enjoyed your take on passive immersion. Learning languages really does require active effort, and your examples underscore why. Thanks for both the insights and a peek into your journey!