Living abroad is clearly one of the best options to improve your language skills, since you are in touch with it on a daily basis and in different situations and contexts. However, it can sometimes be tough for strangers to fit in and make friends with natives. Mostly because of the language barrier (which can be difficult to overcome), cultural differences or even shyness. But what is the purpose of living abroad if not to practice the language with native speakers?
Why is it important to interact with natives?
The first thing is simply to speak, to practice the language orally, which represents a big (if not the most important) part in language learning. Indeed, lots of students tend to read, write, and understand well after having studied for some time, but they forget about the oral part of the learning process. Bad! Interacting with native speakers will allow you to improve your pronunciation as well as you fluency in the language you are learning. Don’t misunderstand me, I’m not saying that speaking with other learners or non-native speakers won’t help you make progress, but native-speakers will help you make it faster.
Vocabulary, idioms, grammar
Yes! By speaking with someone who’s mother tongue is your target language, you will learn plenty on vocabulary, expressions and grammatical structures, which is what you came for. The more you speak with locals and the more locals you speak to, the more useful phrases you will learn. Everyone has its own expressions as well as commonly used ones, and you will soon be able to differentiate those and maybe adopt your own. Wouldn’t it be much easier to fit in afterwards?
The main reason why people travel nowadays is to “discover new cultures”, but how can it be possible to fully understand one’s culture without experiencing it as much as possible? It is inevitable to speak to natives and locals to really get a good overview on their culture, habits and way of life. Moreover, the people will tend to share more with you if you show that you are curious and interested in knowing more.
How to make friends with natives?
1. Share a house/flat with them
The first step to make friends with natives and really improve your language level is to live with people that speaks it (especially natives). That way, you have no other choice than speaking in that language with them. And everyone knows that living with other people is the best way to get to know them; lots of amazing friendships arise from house-sharing experiences. Of course, there are always counterexamples, but don’t be discouraged if your first experience is not that good, the second one will surely be better!
2. Participate in language exchanges
A language exchange is an interaction between two (or more) persons with different nationalities, that are interested in learning and practicing the language of their interlocutors. For example a Spanish girl interested in learning Italian will look for an Italian that is interested in learning Spanish, and they will eventually meet for coffee or else to have a chat. It is actually one of the best ways to get to practice the language and meet new people in your city. Lots of natives can’t afford to travel or simply do not have the time to do it, so they look for language exchange partners to be able to practice without living abroad.
If you want to look for partners, you can search on Facebook (or even google if you don’t have a Facebook) with keywords such as “language exchange [name of your city]” or “English in [name of your city]”. You will find English speaking people looking for local partners as well as locals looking for English speaking partners, and you will also find events around language practice to participate to, such as workshops or language meetings.
You live abroad and have free time during the week? Why not looking for a way to help out on a volunteering project in the city or region you live in? First, it can be a great experience for you, since you will be working for a great cause (education, environment, health…). And second, you will meet plenty of amazing people, sharing the same desire to help, and get to spend time and work along with them. You will also get to learn about the culture, since you will be in touch with the issues of the city, its people, and how to deal with them.
There are several Non-Governmental Organizations throughout the world which you can contact or check if they have volunteering projects in your area. You can also just go check on the jobs databases you know and look for volunteering opportunities.
4. Practice sports, arts and other activities
Are you a football fan or player? A great artist that can’t go out without his guitare or colored pencils? Take advantage of your talent or passion to meet people that are into the same thing! You can whether look for a team to play with if you are more into sports, or look for a class to assist if you are more into arts. That way you may learn new tricks and techniques, since each country has its own, except in international and popular sports.
And if you are just a fan that appreciates football, basketball or other team sports, you can go watch the games in public places, where all the fans go to enjoy the game together. That way you can team with people and comment the match with them, and who knows, you might make friends with them after that? Plus, you will learn plenty on your favorite sport vocabulary!
5. Go to parties
Yes my dear! Parties are the best way to meet people and make friends. But don’t misunderstand me, I’m not saying that you have to drink alcohol to do so, just saying that in this kind of atmosphere it is much more easy to talk to people and share a conversation with them. Look for special events on the cultural program of your city, or on social networks, and go there on your own or with friends that are also interested in making friends with natives.
If you are a studying abroad, that will not be complicated to do, because there are always a lot of plans for foreign students. And if you are on an internship or working in a firm, you can go to meetings outside the office, those where some of your colleagues go to have a beer and talk about other stuff than work. In some firms, people do that every Friday after work, but in some others, there’s no such thing as “afterworks”, so you might have to ask one or two of your colleagues if they want to go out with you some day. And yes, it is totally possible to make friends with colleagues.
6. Use your sense of humour
We all know that a laughter is the best medicine, so be sure that you will make people feel very good by using a little of your sense of humour from sometimes. Of course, it can be very hard to make people laugh when your language skills are not perfect, so you will want to make good use of your body language as well.
People tend to see each other again when they shared a good moment, and you must not think that a few mistakes in the language will make people run away, on the contrary. It can be very funny to share a conversation with someone that is learning your language and makes little mistakes every now and then. Not that they will laugh at you, but you know how it can be funny when someone says the wrong word and his sentence suddenly sounds very inappropriate.