Missing image

Studying Abroad When You Don’t Speak the Language? 5 Tips for Success

This is a guest post from Paige Calahan, SocialMonsters, paige@socialmonsters.org

With over 50 percent of U.S. college students studying abroad choosing Europe as their destination, there’ s a good chance those high school Spanish or French lessons will come in handy. However, if you’ve taken the lesser-traveled path and picked an African, Asian or Middle Eastern country for your study abroad trip, you may face a language barrier your for which your high school language classes didn’t prepare you. When the romance of studying abroad risks being complicated by a language barrier that can leave you vulnerable, prepare yourself for success with these five tips.


Study abroad group in France. Photo by Flickr user LeafLanguages

1. Pick an English language program.

All over the world, universities teach classes in English. Selecting a program that offers English language classes guarantees you’ll comprehend coursework and be able to connect with classmates in a common tongue.

2. Learn key phrases before you go.

Help your semester abroad get off to a good start by learning key phrases such as common food items, place names, greetings and practical transit-related queries. If you know how to hail a taxi and communicate your destination, you’ll be able to get from the airport to your dorm to begin your studies. Greeting your roommate and introducing yourself sets you off on the right foot. Language phrasebooks, apps like Google Translate and databases like Mango can help you accomplish this goal.

3. Protect your gear.

While pickpocketing is on the decline in the U.S., the opposite is true internationally. Even English-speaking nations carry a greater theft risk: London experienced a 20 percent rise in pickpocketing from 2010-2012.

Protect yourself by carrying cash and credit cards securely in a money belt or purse held tight to your body, instead of in your pocket. Store your passport and important documents in your dorm room for protection. Identity theft protection by Lifelock offers an extra measure of protection should you end up the victim of theft. Lifelock offers lost wallet protection, 24/7 threat monitoring and support, and credit alert, all of which are vital if you lose your credit card or ID.

4. Load your device with apps to help you get around.

From translation to public transit, apps can help you navigate your new home. Look for language phrasebook apps, language podcasts like the Coffee Break series, currency conversion apps and travel apps like HostelWorld or CouchSurfer. Viber, Skype and Vonage Mobile allow you to call home without an international data plan, and staying connected to folks at home can help to prevent homesickness.

5. Memorize key locations for emergencies.

While you should learn words like “hospital” when you memorize those key phrases, it’s also critical to find out where you can get help in an emergency. When you first arrive, determine the location of the nearest hospital, pharmacy, MoneyGram or Western Union office and U.S. Embassy. Not only can the U.S. Embassy replace a lost passport, they provide help with medical and legal needs, can explain the criminal justice proceedings in your host country and can contact friends and family back home on your behalf. This provides peace of mind that you’ll be safe and can help you in an emergency.


Leave a Reply