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Moving to a country whose language you don't know

Discussion in 'Teaching abroad' started by kirby42, Apr 28, 2019.

  1. kirby42

    kirby42 New commenter

    Foreign languages! A gateway to new, exciting possibilities, and also at times a source of never-ending headaches. I'm quite fond of languages myself and find them fascinating. But next year I'm going to take up a new teaching post in a country whose language I don't even know two words of!

    I'm curious to hear what your experiences have been like. How much effort did you put into learning the local lingo? What success did you have? Any language related difficulties living there?

    Please share!
  2. spanboy

    spanboy Occasional commenter

    China - apart from very basics like good morning, how much? three of those, stop here (in taxi) etc etc I know hardly anything, but then again I haven't put that much effort in to be honest. What I've found most useful (for me at least) is to be able to READ CHINESE CHARACTERS so I know where buses are going, so I can read or make educated guesses with menus, and so on. I know a couple of hundred characters (which is still nothing) many of which I have no idea how to pronounce in pin yin, but I know their MEANING.
    mahipaul and w62884 like this.
  3. London020

    London020 New commenter

    Hi, I will be teaching in Dubai from August and I have already started to learn a bit of Arabic. I believe its very important to not only know the law of the land but also its culture and language.
  4. SPC2

    SPC2 Occasional commenter

    In the same boat myself. Youtube is your friend!

    In the past, I've been lazy and learned the hard way what a difference a bit of effort can make. This time, trying to make the effort. How successful I'll be remains to be seen.
  5. Mr_Frosty

    Mr_Frosty Established commenter

    When I moved to Seoul for my job prior to teaching I made a reasonable effort to learn Korean using textbooks, youtube and lessons/language exchanges when I arrived. It was pretty successful and I still remember a little now, even though it was a LONG time ago.

    Since moving to the UAE, I've tried to learn a little Arabic, but haven't made much progress as everyone speaks english and I get very little opportunity to practice so it was easy to get lazy and let it slide.
  6. rosaespanola

    rosaespanola New commenter

    It very much depends how much effort you put in and how many people speak English well. As a linguist, I always make the effort to learn at least some of the language of the country I live in or am visiting, but this can be difficult for unexpected reasons. I valiantly attempted to learn Malay before moving to KL, but I had great difficulty finding any resources and I was stopped at every turn by all the Malaysians I met saying "you don't need to learn Malay, everyone speaks English". Since getting here I've been going to lessons, but while not everyone speaks English, most people speak it better than I speak Malay, especially in KL, and it makes it very difficult for me to practise and improve. If you live in a country where you're forced to use the language because you can't fall back on using English, you'll learn a LOT faster.
    Kartoshka and Mr_Frosty like this.
  7. gulfgolf

    gulfgolf Established commenter

    Two different categories: countries with a different national language but where it is easy to get by in English, and countries where it is hard to get by in English.
    I’ve lived in both: three hard and three easy. Modern technology is making a huge difference. Google translate lets you have live conversations with people, or point your phone’s camera at text to get a translation. Fantastic!
    Try Babbel for language learning. Really makes it easy.
    Mr_Frosty likes this.
  8. spanboy

    spanboy Occasional commenter

    Google translate APP on phone is great - this is largely how I've learnt the Chinese characters I know as you can use the 'handwriting' option to draw an approximate likeness of the character on the screen and it comes up with possibilities and translations. Use it sat on the bus passing billboards, posters, shop signs etc to find out what they say.
    Mr_Frosty likes this.
  9. the hippo

    the hippo Lead commenter Community helper

    When I was in Shenzhen, I had a wonderful teaching assistant and she translated lots of things for me. I even spoke to her on WeChat when the police came to our apartment one evening, to check our documents, and she persuaded them to go away. Yes, I did try to learn Mandarin, but did not make much progress beyond a few useful phrases. I had a few American friends who spoke Mandarin fluently - very impressive! Here in Bulgaria, my rusty Russian comes in handy and uTalk has helped a lot.
    Mr_Frosty likes this.
  10. bead

    bead New commenter

    Unfortunately you will be working in English so it makes it very difficult. I learnt Bulgarian in 3 months(I could hold a reasonable conversation) because I worked in shipyards where no one spoke English except a couple of translators in the office. I ended up doing the same with basic Greek. Again in the North, English was not widely spoken so I had to make the effort. 2 years in Cyprus before that and I did not know a single word of Greek because everyone spoke English. After 17 years in the middle east, I know about 3 words in Arabic because English is widely spoken and my job is in English.
    In my personal experience, you need to immerse yourself in a foreign language and make mistakes etc(which can be funny and sometimes embarrassing)
    blueskydreaming and Mr_Frosty like this.
  11. dumbbells66

    dumbbells66 Lead commenter

    i have always learnt the basics like names of foods, numbers, hello, thank you etc. but i have always taken a longer view on learning languages. what use will it be in your future. will you ever use it again in a few years when you move on. there are a lot of languages that will be pretty useless to you in other countries.
    Mr_Frosty likes this.
  12. blueskydreaming

    blueskydreaming Lead commenter

    Haha, pin yin is a writing system, not a speaking system :) It's meant to be phonetic, according to Chinese ears.

    There's an app called 'Pleco' which you may be interested in - you can see each character in compound words, and in sentences. You can also hear the characters/phrases pronounced.
  13. blueskydreaming

    blueskydreaming Lead commenter

    I've learned a lot of Mandarin, but as mentioned above by another poster I did immerse myself, and I've been in China a long time. I found the grammar very simple compared to European languages, which were the only languages I'd previously learned (French, German and Spanish). My next school is in a country with a much more complex language, grammatically speaking. Eek! But my school will be offering language lessons, which is nice.
  14. HotskyForTrotsky

    HotskyForTrotsky New commenter

    Duolingo and Memrise are two websites I use regularly, and depending on the language can get you all the way up to B2 on the CEFR for languages like French, German or Spanish. If you're requiring instruction in an East Asian language like Mandarin or Japanese, Lingodeer is an app that is more focussed on this area.

    There's also a podcast group that teach languages by use - InnovativeLanguage.com - that have individual podcasts based on target languages.

    I like Duolingo and Memrise as a starting point because they "game-ify" the language process.

    None of these resources will get you fluent, but they'll definitely give you a good starting point to build off of, and in certain communities, basic communication is enough.
  15. spanboy

    spanboy Occasional commenter

    Yes, but you know what I meant...AIDING non-Chinese learn pronunciation behind the written characters then...
    TexanTeacher2013 likes this.
  16. ejclibrarian

    ejclibrarian Established commenter Community helper

    I get by with basic phrases and my Google translate app. Most street signs, signs in supermarkets, public transport etc are all in English so that does make life easier. I do wish I knew more and plan on making more of an effort. Taiwan is aiming for English to become the second national language so in the long term it looks like foreigners will have it a lot easier.
    TexanTeacher2013 likes this.
  17. Kartoshka

    Kartoshka Established commenter

    It might be a "useless" language once you leave the country, but while you are living there, it is only polite to make an effort. Just because we native English speakers are lucky that people can understand us in almost any foreign country, it doesn't mean we should be complacent. Others must put in the effort to learn a foreign language in order to be understood, and we should do our best to at least learn a few basics.
  18. Mainwaring

    Mainwaring Lead commenter

    I did A Level French and, thanks to the lovely Madame Tison, my accent is good, though I never achieved real fluency. I had about six lessons of Spanish thirty years ago and on a good day I can fool my interlocutor into thinking that I might be fellow native speaker from some obscure part of the hispanophone world. For that I owe a debt to Paddy Gore, my Latin teacher back in nineteen-hundred-and-frozen-to.death. Being rubio I don't look hispanic but Spanish courtesy usually dictates that when I address a person in Spanish he will reply in the same language. Only very occasionally I have to grind my teeth because somebody thinks he's doing me a favour by responding in English,
  19. Ne11y

    Ne11y Occasional commenter

    It also depends on the language group. I've been familiar with Slavic languages for decades, so can understand enough to get by in most Slavic countries, although speaking is another matter and I frequently default to the one I know best (which doesn't always go down well)! When learning French at secondary school, I was told I spoke with a Polish accent. Which is weird.

    An early language teacher I had was a school speech therapist. It was probably invaluable in nailing down pronunciation and I would actively seek out a similar tutor if I were to take up a new language group.
  20. dumbbells66

    dumbbells66 Lead commenter

    its great when you can take a part of a message and "quote" selectively. i did actually say this in the part of my message that you conveniently forgot to "quote"o_O

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