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Why studying abroad is the best way to cement language skills

Studying abroad has long been touted as one of the best ways to improve language skills, consolidate learning, and work towards fluency. And for good reason: it works. Here are seven reasons why studying overseas is so beneficial for language learners.

1. There’s (non-stop) immersion

Real-life immersion (the kind you can’t fully replicate with classes, language exchange partners, native-speaker friends, or even a native-speaker spouse) requires a student to improve their skills so as to be understood by the locals. That’s not to say that lessons don’t help learners – just that it’s very difficult to achieve fluency with classtime alone. This is because learners may revert to their native language when tired, choose to sit beside other native-speaker friends, or skip lessons (you know the students we’re talking about, amiright?). Studying abroad, on the other hand, is like going to the moon: you’re there until the spaceship brings you back to Earth.

2. Practice extends beyond predictable topics

Course books, however excellent, simply can’t cover all current events and student interests. While studying abroad, your learners will practice “the classics” often enough (describing their likes, dislikes, family, and work), but they’ll also be presented with countless other topics through their interactions with locals, host families, teachers, and fellow students.

3. Enjoy endless input

This input comes in an huge variety of forms: from the news to podcasts, books, road signs, cereal boxes, the radio, TV, ATMs, instructions, labels on clothes, conversations with wait staff, receptionists, checkout workers, retail assistants – we could go on! While abroad there is (literally) no end to the input students receive. Some of it will be easier to understand than others – just ask anyone who’s ever lodged a complaint in another language! – but it’s all there to be studied and absorbed.

4. Access to real accents

No slightly modified speech; while studying abroad, students communicate daily with locals and their colloquial, mumbled, or insanely fast (read, real) accents. This real-life, non-stop practice helps learners progress far faster than class listening activities – no matter how well-executed they may be – are able to.

5. Language is necessary for (happy) survival

While food and a roof over their heads is enough to survive, your students’ language skills are their key to thriving abroad. After all, there’s a whole social world to unlock, not to mention the inner-workings of the academic institution where they’ll attend class. Your students will have to buy food, pay bills, navigate public transport, return purchases, ask for directions, borrow library books – all of which help color their experience living abroad.

6. Slang time

When talking with native speakers in their own city, your students are probably not hearing them how they would really speak. We’ve all experienced this: as teachers we tend to modify our language to aid a learner’s understanding. However, while overseas students will be exposed to long lists of new vocabulary – and importantly, slang – which will enrich their learning.

7. Measurable success

Students often report returning back home feeling happier, more confident, and more energized about their studies. Why is that? Apart from the “refresh” of spending time in another place, what has really changed is that your students can see their daily progress. When studying abroad, language success is not measured by a number or official score but by the fact that as your students improve, the locals respond to them almost as if by magic: handing over the correct bus ticket, laughing at a joke, or signing them up for the mobile phone contract they wanted (and whose fine print they understood!). These small successes are extremely motivating for students.

The chance to study abroad is an invaluable opportunity to accelerate language acquisition and cement skills. Where would your class like to go?

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