As an English teacher, I’ve been able to visit many countries, arriving with the intention of living there and starting a new life. So I know how difficult it is, especially when you are not 100% confident with the language. I’ve written this advice section to give you some tips that have helped me in my journeys, and will make your first days in an English speaking country a lot easier and more productive.
This is also a chance to practice your reading skills, so I have written this article at a B2 level. New phrasal verbs will be in purple, and difficult vocabulary will be in red, with definitions below. Complex grammar structures will be in green. I have also included comprehension questions at the bottom.
Practice specific situations before you travel
If you want to feel comfortable in your new surroundings in an English speaking country, I think it’s absolutely essential to practice the language before you arrive. More than anything, you should be practising the type of English you will need for specific situations that you’ll come across in your first couple of weeks there. When I first arrived to Brazil, I had been learning Portuguese for nearly a year, but I still wasn’t prepared to go into a shop and ask if they had a specific item. It’s a little embarrassing to go into a shop and be stuck for words, just pointing and hoping the cashier understands what you mean.
In order to avoid running into problems like this, imagine yourself in the key situations you’ll be in when you first arrive to the country. I like to think about arriving to the airport, exchanging money, taking a taxi for the first time, arriving to my initial accommodation, and for the future, going into a shop! In my mind I think through all the vocabulary I might need, and make a list. I find the necessary words and phrases, and then practice again in my head. It makes a huge difference to start well with the language in a new country, to build your confidence from the get-go.
Make friends the easy way
Making your first friends is one of the toughest challenges in a new country, and it’s unlikely you’ll feel truly at home until you have a healthy social life. My favourite way to do so is to attend local language exchange events, where people from around the world get together to practice languages and make new friends. It takes a bit of courage the first time, to start speaking to complete strangers, but you’ll quickly find that the events are full of travellers from around the world in a similar situation to you.
In Barcelona where I was living for around 7 months, I frequently attended an event called Mundo Lingo, which I found through the website Meetup. I would say I made the majority of my friends through that event, and in fact I wish I had found it earlier. They have a number of sister events around the world offering the same experience for free. Also, a quick look on the website Couchsurfing and you’ll find similar exchanges wherever you travel.
Don’t forget to use the contacts that you already have! Before you travel, contact people you know who have already been to the same place as you, and see if they have any friends or family there who wouldn’t mind meeting up with you for a coffee. They can help you get your bearings and may become a better friend later on.
Live with native English speakers
In order to learn English as fast as possible, and get an understanding of the culture, it’s important to try to find a shared house with English speakers only – if you’re a Spanish speaker, for example, avoid the temptation to find other Spanish speakers to live with; you will not improve your English, and I promise you will learn very little about local culture.
Learning Portuguese here in Brazil, I have a room in a house with three Brazilians. Of course, it was very really difficult at the start, and I would spend half of my conversations flicking through a dictionary trying to grasp what they were saying. I could barely understand 50% of the language, especially when all three were talking at the same time. After just a month here, I can understand the vast majority of everything being said. By cutting down on the time I spend speaking my own language, I also feel more like I belong here, rather than just another traveller, which I think is the key to being happy in a new country.
For more English practice before your trip, contact me and book your first class with a 50% discount.
Leave answers to the T/F in the comments sections, along with any questions you have.
True or False:
1. Ben started learning Portuguese when he arrived to Brazil.
2. Ben wanted to discover Meet Up events before he finally did.
3. Contacts can help you get orientated in your new city.
4. Ben used a dictionary to be able to speak in conversations.
5. Ben spends more time speaking English than before.
Surroundings – environment
Stucks for words – unable to think of anything to say
From the get-go – from the very beginning
Courage – ability to do something that you know is difficult or dangerous
Sister – closely similar or associated
Get your bearings – understand where you are
Barely – hardly
Grasp – understand
The vast majority – the large majority
Come across – meet or find by chance
Run into – encounter (something)
Get together – meet as a group
Meet up with – go to a place to be with (someone)
Cut down on – reduce
I had been learning – Past Perfect Continuous
I wish I had found – Wish in the past
I would spend – Would for past habits