The first thing you need to realize is that your high school language skills are probably not going to be enough for you when you go abroad. While it’s true that some students are able to pick up the language in a couple of weeks, there are also students who take years before they feel comfortable speaking the new language. It all depends on your personality, background, and motivation.
When I studied abroad in Bordeaux, France I took a couple of courses and spoke with friends and family back home using French so much so that my French improved drastically while living there even though I did not have very formal classes. The problem was that if someone spoke broken English or no English at all, I had no way of communicating with them unless it was through gestures or pointing. I get ready to study internationally and I realized that I had to take French classes and learn the basics before leaving for France.
It can be difficult to find a class that fits your schedule, but if you want to study abroad, you need to make it work. You’ll regret not taking a language class after you arrive in the new country because there will be so much more for you gain from language courses than just being able to communicate with people. Courses will help with your overall learning experience and give you confidence in your ability to speak the language of the country or region where you are studying overseas. If one is not offered at your host institution, look into what options might exist nearby and take advantage of them!
I was lucky enough that my university offered an intensive summer program with courses like “Learning Italian” and “French Culture & Civilization” as well as great opportunities for field trips around Italy and France (the main reason why I chose it). The school also offers an intensive course during winter break as well as spring break (I was lucky enough to go on spring break), which is really helpful since most students do not want or cannot afford travel during those times when they are studying abroad. During fall semester, they offer two levels of Spanish; beginner Spanish 1 – 2 hours a week, intermediate Spanish 1-3 hours a week). Although this may sound like it’s not enough time per week for each course, getting used to speaking another language takes time under any circumstances. It’s really hard to learn to speak another language without speaking it.
I highly recommend taking at least one course, even if it’s just for a couple of hours a week. The more you can practice, the better your chances of improving your fluency in the new language. You may not be able to take courses at your host institution due to scheduling or other reasons, but that doesn’t mean you can’t study abroad and improve your language skills at the same time! If you are interested in this option I would recommend looking into local libraries and universities where they offer free lessons for their students so that you don’t have to spend money on classes or additional books.
Another option which is very popular around my university is taking an online class through Global Exchange Programs (GEP). GEP offers several different programs that focus on learning another country’s culture as well as its language. For example, there are two different programs focusing on French language & culture offered by GEP: “French Culture & Civilization” and “French Language & Culture.” There are also options for other countries including Italy, Spain, Japan, Germany etc… I took the first one during winter break after my first semester abroad because I found it difficult speaking French with people who were older than me since they seemed more comfortable with their English skills than their ability to speak French! It was great because it gave me confidence when talking with them using basic conversational phrases which helped tremendously when getting used to talking in France. I am taking an international study abroad class during summer, so I will be taking the French Culture & Civilization course again because it was so helpful.
Another great resource for students studying abroad is the official website for their program. In my case, I would recommend going to the USA-ITA portal and looking at what resources they have available along with information about how to get around Italy and other countries that may not necessarily have a language program sponsored by your university.
Even if you’re having a difficult time learning a new language while studying abroad, there are tons of opportunities for engaging in different activities that will help you learn more about your host country’s culture while also improving your language skills. Keep in mind that people from other countries speak other languages as well! Just because someone speaks English doesn’t necessarily mean they can speak everything else.
I would like to say that I think it’s okay to speak your native language when you’re abroad if you feel comfortable doing so. The main thing is that you are doing what makes you happy. You should not force yourself into situations where don’t feel comfortable. If a French person asks me if I speak French, and I don’t know what to say, instead of saying “No” in English, I say “Non” while smiling. It shows politeness and respect for the person while also letting them know that they may need to use a translator or be able to communicate in English with their question or inquiry!