A lot of people say that moving to another country is the best way to learn a language. Yes, there’s some truth to this, but thinking that simply going abroad will make you fluent in another language is foolish. There is an immense value to living in a place where most people speak the language you want to learn, but it’s not enough to just go there. It’s a common misconception that going on exchange, working abroad, or going on vacation will magically help you become confident in the language you’re trying to learn, but I’ve often seen quite the opposite.
When I lived in Korea, in Austria, in Poland, in Quebec, or any one of the places I’ve traveled to, it was always the same story. People came to a country (including Canada and the US) hoping to return with a new language, but they typically came home empty handed.
In fact, I got into coaching after working with a Korean man who had been living in Los Angeles for over a decade and still struggled to make himself understood, even with the simplest of sentences. That’s when I realised that there was a need for efficient training showing people how to finally feel confident and comfortable speaking English – helping people sound natural in English. Last month, a woman from France reached out to me asking how she could improve her accent – she has been living in New York for over 25 years – her children tease her (they were born in the US), and she still has to repeat herself a few times whenever she meets with clients. 25 years should be enough to master a language, right?
The truth is, moving abroad isn’t enough, especially if you want to sound natural.
Accurate pronunciation is a skill and a physical act. Imagine learning how to play the guitar just by listening to rock music, without anyone ever showing you how a guitar works. Seems crazy, right? What about learning to code without any explanation of how programming works? Sure, you can do it, but chances are you’ll struggle, it will take you an incredibly long time to learn (assuming you persevere and don’t give up) and you may never get the results you want. Learning to speak a second language with confidence and great pronunciation is no different. Even decades of being surrounded by native speakers can leave your pronunciation or accent completely unchanged. It’s not the same part of your brain that’s working, and you likely don’t have the tools to know how to move your mouth correctly.
Unless you know what you’re doing, you’re going to keep building bad habits. Like any skill, speaking a language involves connections in your brain that get stronger or weaker. Most of us learned at least some English as a kid (or any foreign language, really), but since we’ve been using it wrong for many years, chances are that we’ve build some bad habits. We might not be able to correct ourselves and give ourselves the feedback we need to pronounce things the right way, or use natural expressions correctly in the right context.
When you travel or move abroad, it’s easy to stick with people from your country or people who speak your native language.
It’s only human to find people who are like us, and there’s nothing wrong with seeking comfort (even subconsciously), but this one thing is enough to hold you back from your goals of learning a new language. I’ve met (and worked with) many people who came to North America hoping to improve their English, but instead found that their English got WORSE. Surely you’ve heard of Chinatown or Little Italy, but even people from countries without their own neighbourhood manage to find people like them, or find a way to stay connected to their native language and culture. Of course, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with this, but it’s an easy trap to fall into while still expecting to learn a new language.
Especially with today’s technology, it’s so easy to create and live in your own little “bubble” where you mostly hear and speak your own language – this is especially true in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic, where everything seems to be moving online. Just like the woman who has been living in the US for a quarter century, many of my friends all over the world stick to their expat communities and never learn much about the local language and culture, largely because it’s so much easier to do so. I won’t lie, I’m often guilty of this myself. It can be exhausting to immerse yourself fully into another language and culture, and it can take a lot of time, energy, and money to do so.
Now, there is some good news in all of this. It might not be true that moving abroad will magically teach you a language, but it is true that you can learn to confidently, clearly, and naturally speak a language without ever going to a country that speaks that language. My very first Korean teacher spoke fluent English with native-like pronunciation, and until recently, he had never left Korea! How? He just had the right tools for learning, a good mentor, and a mindset that told him it was possible!
If you’re committed to speaking great English, you have someone to coach you, AND you live in an English-speaking country, that’s a winning combination. A good mentor will not only show you how to learn the language, but they’ll also give you the tools to become deeply aware of what your current level is, what you need to improve, and how to do so. Chances are, if you want to improve your English but you’ve made it this far, you don’t need a normal teacher, and I’m afraid watching YouTube videos won’t help you reach your goals either. You need individualized feedback, someone who can show you what and how to improve.
There are many coaches out there, make sure to find one that caters exactly to your needs. I personally offer coaching for busy people who want to speak English confidently with great pronunciation. If you already speak some English but aren’t satisfied with your accent or your current level, don’t hesitate to reach out to me. I work with my clients individually, working together with them to build a learning program specifically tailored to their needs, goals, and schedule, so if speaking English confidently, clearly, and naturally is something you want, book a free consultation and we’ll build you an action plan to finally get you speaking English the way you’ve always wanted to.
Ben Latour - Pronunciation Masterclass Coach