Those of you who have been following this blog and reading some of my best tips, know that sometimes I focus on advice for those of you already abroad. Even though you don’t have to be rich to be able to travel to another country to learn a language, sometimes it just isn’t desirable or possible right now for some people.
This doesn’t mean that you can’t get a head-start and practise, and even improve a foreign language to a pretty good level while at home! In this post, I’m only going to discuss free practising methods, rather than learning ones, because it goes without saying that you can invest hundreds or thousands in audio courses, group classes, software etc.
Some people even learn from pure input TV/listening/reading in the foreign language (I’m not a fan of this method since I prefer to focus much more on two-way communication, even from the start, but others have sworn by it), and of course there’s always good old fashioned
self-study. Depending on the person, these may work well for learning the language (apart from self-study, none of these methods have ever worked well for me, and I have my own way of studying), but for actually practising the language, they all fall short.
Don’t you need to be abroad to speak a foreign language?
Of course not! Most major (and even some minor) languages are much easier to come across than you think! You may live in an English speaking country (or otherwise), but it is filled with people from all around the world, some of which may be happy to help you learn, as well as fellow enthusiastic learners at the same level as you.
Below, I’ll be mostly referring to the Internet as a means to meet these people, and not as the tool for actually practising. But you can also add people who are abroad to your MSN/Skype to engage in some interesting two-way conversations, and find penpals through some sites like polyglot language exchange. This helps a lot with your written language, spelling and grammar, but the priority should always be on spoken communication (in my opinion). Unless you live in a village in a mountain, if you try hard enough you can find opportunities to practise in person! If you live in a major and especially a capital city, you have no excuses.
Several years ago, I decided that I wanted to speak Portuguese, but this was while I was living in Paris. Using a variation of some of what I say below both there and in other countries, when I arrived in Brazil for the first time I was already able to communicate with and understand the locals pretty well! I have been able to regularly practise any language that I choose in almost any location because of this.
But there is nobody who speaks that language where I live!
Actually, I take back what I said about the being in a village on the mountain being the exception to being able to practise a language. All you really need is just one person to converse with and even if all you have is a fellow villager also interested in that language, you are already on the right track! As long as you have both studied at least the basics, there is a chance to practise what you know!
Believe it or not, the person with whom you practise does not have to be a native. If you want to reach the intermediate stage of being able to converse in a language that you are currently uncomfortable about speaking, it can actually be better speaking with non-natives. Seriously.
I learned most of my Spanish (my first foreign language) thanks to the French, German, Italian etc. Erasmus students when I was living in Valencia.