3 Things Beginning English Speakers Must Do When Traveling Abroad

So you want to travel to an English speaking country and spend some time there getting to know the culture. But by the end of the trip you realize that you haven’t really learned much at all… Don’t let this happen to you!

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In this article are 3 ways you can accelerate your English learning and maximize your enjoyment when traveling abroad. However, these tips are likely the most difficult parts about starting to learn a new language.

You may not want to hear what’s written in this article, but if you really want to improve your English, these three things are something you must embrace.

Here they are…

1. The more you struggle, the quicker you will learn.

Struggling means putting yourself in situations where you’re out of your comfort zone. It means doing activities the require you to speak or understand English, or at least try.. It means talking to people in English and attending programs, classes, and workshops in English. (If you live near Belo Horizonte, Brazil—where RLE is based—join our Facebook group and be notified about our next Real Life Event—we have a yoga class and picnic every Sunday.)

Yes, struggling is uncomfortable, but pushing yourself to do things that are uncomfortable is what helps you learn the best.

It’s difficult to learn something new without putting yourself into an uncomfortable situation.

Part of learning something new is struggling to do it with more advanced people. However, learning to speak a new language amplifies these uncomfortable feelings because you can’t do it by yourself (like learning how to read); you have to do it with other people.

But you’re never going to learn if you don’t have this struggle. Learning to be comfortable with discomfort will not just help you accelerate your language learning, but nearly every other part of your life as well.

You feel fear for a reason. It’s so you know exactly what you must do. If you are traveling abroad and you are afraid to go up and ask someone for directions, this is exactly what you must do. If you are afraid to go to a English event because you don’t think your English is good enough, this is exactly what you must do.

Now, when I say that whatever you fear is what you should do, that doesn’t mean ignore common sense. If you’re afraid to run across the freeway, that’s probably something you should listen to. But when the fear comes to something mental, which won’t result in physical pain or death, it’s probably in your best interest to confront it.

So embrace being uncomfortable, embrace the struggle, and you will accelerate your growth beyond your wildest dreams.

2. The more you make yourself look like a beginner, the quicker you will learn.

Most people don’t like to look like a beginner. Most people don’t like to admit that they don’t know how to communicate.

If you don’t completely understand what someone says, it’s easier to just nod and pretend like you know than to ask them to repeat.

Showing people that you’re a beginner at something, or less knowledgeable than you would like, is often an uncomfortable experience. And as mentioned above, it’s best for your English if you struggle through looking like a beginner.

Living in Brazil, I see this a lot with Brazilians. Most Brazilians that I’ve talked to, have apologized for their level of English. In other words, they are ashamed of their level of English and they have problems with being a beginner.

BUT BEING A BEGINNER IS OKAY. Everyone was a beginner at some point in their life at everything! There’s no reason to apologize for being a beginner, and there’s no reason to be ashamed of it.

Embrace being a beginner. The more you hide your inabilities, the slower you will learn.

This is a problem I have myself with learning Portuguese. Oftentimes when someone says something in Portuguese that I don’t understand, I’ll just nod my head and confirm. But this causes problems…It gives the impression that you are shy, among other things.

When you respond with such little, unengaging responses, it gives the impression that you don’t want to talk. So if you’re not holding up your part of the conversation, why would anyone want to talk to you? This can’t be good for your learning.

If you just say you didn’t understand, then the person realizes that you’re not totally fluent and they understand your situation. No longer are you someone who avoids conversation or interaction with other humans, you just aren’t able to completely understand them.

Talking to a beginner is much more interesting than talking to someone who avoids conversation.

So remember, pretending to understand only isolates you from people. Sure, you may appear to have understood them, but you probably seem like you’re trying to avoid conversation.

If someone says something you don’t understand, ask them to repeat it. If you still don’t understand, ask them to speak slower. If you still don’t understand, that’s fine too! Pretending you do understand will only ruin your ability to connect with other people. Which leads us into the next section…

3. The more you irritate other people, the quicker you will learn.

One of the reasons why people fake understanding is because they don’t want to irritate the speaker. They imagine that if they keep asking the person to repeat themselves, or talk slower, or say they don’t understand, then the person will get annoyed with them, judge them for it, and not talk to them anymore.

Well, if that happens, GOOD. If someone gets annoyed at you for not understanding what they’re saying, then they probably aren’t someone you want as a friend anyway. You want English speaking friends who are patient and understanding of the process you’re going through. If they get easily annoyed at you, then find someone else to talk to!

People who get annoyed with you aren’t good people to learn from. So… annoy as many people as you can! Now, that doesn’t mean you have to purposefully annoy someone, it just means anytime you don’t understand someone, TELL THEM.

Patient and understanding people prefer you to honestly say you didn’t understand than to fake that you did. People who you actually want to talk to, to hang out with, are people who will be patient and helpful towards you.

Another important point is that sometimes clear communication is crucial for safety and important situations. For example, image if someone you were rock climbing, and someone said “If I fall, make sure my head doesn’t hit the rock,” and you nod your head. Then you look at your cell phone and don’t even notice the person start climbing. They fall and since you’re not prepared to help them and they hit their head on the rock. This disaster could’ve been prevented if you just weren’t afraid of annoying them…


Expect to get embarrassed, expect to be misunderstood. Expect to struggle and expect to irritate people.

When you learn a new language this is something that you must go through. So you can go through the pain now, or you can go through it 10 years from now when you’re finally ready to start speaking.

So get out there and fall on your face!

Study Abroad!

Interested in studying abroad in Toronto, Canada? Real Life English has teamed up with RCIIS to give our readers an amazing study abroad experience.

So what is RCIIS and what makes them great? Click to find out more about Studying Abroad in Toronto, Canada.

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  • This is awesome advice for somebody learning any language, and it's key to making new friends and having a rich experience abroad!

    It's easier to make friends than you think, even if you don't speak much English, and having English speaking friends will inevitably lead to better and better English!

  • Elton says:

    That’s was exactly what I needed!
    I’m going to Canada in two days and I confessed that I’m afraid, because I don’t know if my english is sufficient to make friends, talk with natives, buy itens and ask directions.
    But this article helped me! I’ll go ahead and this experience abroad will be the best of all my life!

    Thanks so much!