Crossing the Language Barrier


Learning a new culture is hard. And learning a new language is even harder. Relocating to a new country where English is not the main language means you are diving into the deep end, even if you have studied the language at school. University and secondary school language classes don’t necessarily cover slang, and they are unlikely to cover the latest slang. They usually focus on formal grammar and the way language is used in official and workplace situations, which is very practical. But if you are making a home in a new place, that isn’t enough.

Furthermore, language is used differently in different regions. Just consider the differences in how English is spoken in Ireland, Australia and the USA. It’s barely the same language at all! Your school French might serve you well in Paris, but what if you are going to Senegal or Quebec? Maybe you aced Spanish in school, but the accent you learned sounds nothing like the way people speak in Peru or Cuba. Your language skills might be adequate for your job, but your social life might demand something more, something different. How can you get the casual, spoken language skills you need to socialize in your new home?

You will have some opportunity to chat socially with your work colleagues or fellow volunteers. But maybe you’d like more. You can socialize and gain language skills outside of your employment or volunteer gig. And those options go beyond a classroom. So how can you get out and socialize while learning a new language with people who are prepared to be patient and helpful? It takes some effort, but you can find all sorts of opportunities. And if you don’t find them, you can create them. (Pro tip: check the bulletin boards of English language bookstores as well as local forums online.)

Learning off the Job

You can often find people who want to brush up on their English and do an exchange. You might meet for a couple of hours a week and speak the local language for an hour then switch to English. Or you can meet twice a week for an hour and do one language per meeting. Both people are getting something useful to them, and you can also give each other tips on local life beyond language. Colleges are a great place to look for this kind of language exchange.

Another group of people who have time and patience are the elderly. Check in with a local seniors group and see if they are interested in any kind of language exchange. You could wind up with a crash course in local history as well as better language skills.

You can also find social groups for newcomers. Usually they have some hosts/ coordinators who are locals. Because people are from various places, you are forced to use the local language, and people will be very patient with you because everyone is learning. Ideally, such groups will include many locals so you will get a lot of very kind feedback on your language skills.

One major advantage of being Irish is that all around the world, you can find Irish pubs. They are full of people who are happy to chat with someone from Ireland, so you can use that to your advantage. And relax, they probably don’t operate on the rounds system so you can leave the night both sober and solvent!

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