6 Tips on How to Learn a Foreign Language Abroad

5 Tips on How to Learn a Foreign Language Abroad
*Update: New tip added*

Learning a foreign language while living abroad is a very challenging but rewarding experience. When traveling for an extended period of time, learning the language becomes essential. I have currently been living in Costa Rica for about 3 months now, and here are five tips to help you learn a foreign language abroad.

How to Learn a Foreign Language Abroad

Below are five different tips I have compiled which have helped me in my process of learning Spanish in Costa Rica. I must emphasize that I am NOWHERE NEAR fluent in Spanish, but have improved greatly since I first arrived. Initially speaking basically no Spanish, I am now capable of holding down (very slow) conversations. Here are five things to keep in mind when learning a new language abroad.

1) Download the Google Translate App

The first tip to learn a foreign language abroad is that you MUST download the Google Translate app on your smartphone. I literally use this app every single day in Costa Rica. The app allows you to type or even speak to translate words and phrases from your native language. The app even has a downloadable offline version which you can use without a data plan or internet!

Caveat: There is one caveat while using the Google Translate App. Keep in mind that the translations are not always spot on and sometimes inaccurate, especially with long sentences or phrases. I usually have very little issues with mistranslations on the app, but keep in mind that they do happen. You will immediately know an incorrect translation by the perplexed look on the person’s face.

2) Make a List of Commonly Heard Words & Phrases

If you are living abroad for an extended period of time, you will begin to recognize commonly used words and phrases. This is obviously a great place to start when trying to learn a foreign language abroad. If you hear certain words or phrases often then they are probably important. Make a list of these different words and translate them using the Google Translate app. In my opinion, when learning a new language abroad, you want to start with the most relevant, helpful words & terms.

3) Learn a Few Words & Phrases Everyday

One very important thing I have found when trying to learn a foreign language abroad is momentum. If you do not make learning an everyday exercise, you will slowly lose your fluency. But when you make an effort to learn something new everyday, you start gaining momentum and building off what you learned the previous day. The dots will start to connect much more quickly if you are persistent.

It is important to have the mindset of wanting to always improve, every single day. This way you will keep building momentum, rather than losing it.

4) Practice, Practice, Practice…Speaking

When learning anything in life, practice is essential. And this is no different when it comes to learning a new language. You must practice regularly, if not every single day, in order to continue to improve. You will notice that once you stop practicing, your skills begin to regress.

But the most important way to practice a new language is speaking. While it can be a difficult (and sometimes painful) process, practicing speaking is the best way to improve. Try to meet local people in your area and see if they are willing to practice with you. When you practice more, the gears in your head start clicking. Eventually you will notice that you are speaking more quickly and smoothly than before!

5) Watch Foreign Films & TV Shows

I have found that one of the hardest things about learning a new language is listening and processing. This is especially true where I am in Costa Rica, because the locals speak very rapidly. But one thing that has been helping a lot in this area is watching local TV and Spanish movies. This is a great way to practice your linguistic listening and processing skills. Just look for foreign films and TV shows online that include subtitles. That way you can follow along while learning new words and phrases.

6) Be Patient and Don’t Give Up!

Patience is a virtue! Learning a new language is no easy task. It can be easy to get discouraged and want to give up. Sometimes when trying to talk to locals, or hearing them speak together, it can be demoralizing. You may begin to ask yourself, “I don’t understand anything! Have I learned anything? Am I even improving?”.

But you must keep in mind that it will take time, a lot of time. As long as you are tenacious and stick with it, there is no way you will not learn the language over time. Do not be discouraged and stay positive!

For more travel tips, read my previous article, “A Homebody’s Guide to Travel – 5 Tips”.


Originally from Chicago, now traveling around the world while working remotely as a web designer / developer. A Christian trying to be a shining light in a dark world.


  • Mike April 23, 2018 at 11:45 am Reply

    Good to know!

  • Ryan Biddulph April 29, 2018 at 4:00 am Reply

    3 and 4 are dead on bro! All the tips rock. I learned a bit more Thai daily 2 months ago in Chiang Mai. Simple, easy, and with daily practice, I can ask for basic stuff or chat with folks at 7-11 LOL. Or I can let ’em no “no bag”hehehe…..really smart tips man….thanks for sharing 🙂


    • travel His world April 29, 2018 at 9:54 pm Reply

      Thank you Ryan! Wow I bet Thai is intense to learn! I am having a hard enough time with Spanish haha. Thank you for reading and for your input!

  • Elena March 27, 2019 at 8:28 pm Reply

    I studied Spanish in Medellin and later lived in Uruguay. Spanish differed in those countries, but there were enough similarities, so I fairly quickly picked up the Uruguayan version. In Costa Rica, I was lost – I felt like I never heard the language before. For some reason, the Tico dialect was pretty hard to comprehend. It took me loads of patience to even begin taking hold of it. Good tips and spot-on observation about deficiencies of the Google Translate App. Moreover, its quality greatly depends on languages, I discovered that it does a very poor job of translating from Vietnamese. In many cases, translation doesn’t make any sense.

    • travel His world March 27, 2019 at 10:23 pm Reply

      Wow what a coincidence! I learned Spanish when I was living in Costa Rica last year for 8 months. Tico Spanish is definitely hard to understand. Especially because I was in a mountain village there where people didn’t enunciate much at all and had a heavy rural accent. I learned a lot of Spanish but even after 8 months I still had trouble understanding people. I feel you!

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