Five ways to practice English outside the school during your intensive course abroad
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One of the biggest expectations of individuals who travel abroad to study English is to get as much opportunity practice what they learn as possible. Indeed, this can be fairly challenging once you’re outside the classroom, particularly for those who don’t make an effort or feel too awkward and shy about trying to interact.
Below you will find a few tips to maximize your practice:
Where to stay and how
If you get a flat just for yourself and/or stay at the same place for the entire time you are doing the course, you will be much more comfortable. Nonetheless, by staying in different places and with other people, especially if they don’t speak your first language, you will have more opportunities to communicate and get acquainted with the local lifestyle. Every change of house will provide an opportunity to talk to new people, get to know a different area, re-adapt. Plus if you get an obnoxious roommate, it will be easier to tolerate them knowing you will be moving out soon.
People from your country
One of the things students tend to say a lot is if they meet other co-nationals they won’t speak English at all. While there is a grain of truth in that, after all, it is difficult to speak a foreign
When I did my one-month intensive CELTA course in Edinburgh, for instance. I booked three different places. In my first ten days, I stayed with a couple; she was English and he was Italian. They were extremely kind and friendly and even invited me out. After that, I choose a Chinese family. They were quiet and very polite and lived in an amazing side of town. Finally, I was hosted by a Scottish guy who had traveled to make countries around the globe. The interesting thing about these places if they were all completely different people who belong to the local community and lived on opposite sides of the city. Even though I was busy studying this allowed me to see more of what was available outside the school, and to interact with different people who were not necessarily students. That has enriched my experience.
The reason why I like Airbnb more than host families is that you, as a student and adult, are in charge of the choice. Schools are generally very secretive about host families, and often they won’t do more than what the online platform will do for you. I think Airbnb people tend to even be more careful and polite, as there will be a public review left for both parties. You can choose someone who’s been consistently well-reviewed, in a nice area of town. Plus, by staying in different places you get to experience more of the city.
People from your country
One of the things students tend to say a lot is if they meet other co-nationals they won’t speak English at all. While there is a grain of truth in that, after all, it is difficult to speak a foreign language to someone from your country, it doesn’t have to be like that. A very good way to avoid that is by including people who don't speak your language in the group, which is something you can start at the school. Instead of sitting next to people from your country, try and sit with people from different places. This will allow you to have a more genuine experience in class, and to get to know and become friends with other foreigners.
The course itself
One of the biggest difficulties students face when studying abroad is interacting with people outside of school. If I were to go to England or the USA to study English for a month, I would not hire a full-time English course. In fact, in both countries, Brazilians can enroll in part-time courses without a student visa; you can check that online. In England, to take a part-time course of fewer than 6 months we only need a valid passport; in the USA, a valid passport and a tourist visa.
So for me, the best option in both countries would be to go as a tourist and enroll in a part-time course. At the same time, I would look for activities or even non-language courses of interest such as sports, photography classes. etc. to practice everyday English with a group of people. This is, in fact, the best way to interact with the local people in England.
A good idea is to take guided tours of museums, especially those where you get a little radio and tour the place yourself. You study a bit about the tour first by reading websites and watching youtube videos, for example, and then taking the tour. What I like about guided visits is that you can listen to the same audio several times, return to places and practice listening a lot. Sightseeing buses are also a great option. A good tip is to read about the sights before taking the tour so that you already know a little about the context in question.
Because of the price, most students choose to take group classes in schools. However, single or double lessons can be a great way to get the necessary feedback from the learning process. So if I were going to do a month-long exchange I would also look for a tutor or individual tutoring system in a school. This often does not occur to us, but in the same way that we have private teachers offering personalized classes in Brazil, we also have in these other countries.
A great app for meeting people is Couchsurfing. It was created for free hosting (never used) but today it also allows you to meet people daily. Even in 2016, I traveled alone to Paris and London and met very nice people who lived in the city through him. If you are looking for companies to have lunch, go to the museum, have a beer… Couchsurfing is great. My only caveat is with some of the men, who often expect more than one friendship. In my case, I tried to make it clear that I wasn't looking for a boyfriend or anything more than a friendship.