So you just signed up for a study abroad program. As you count down the months, weeks, and days until you land in Paris, Tokyo, or wherever your destination is, you find yourself getting simultaneously nervous and excited. It’s natural to feel this way, however, you don’t want nerves to prevent you from fully enjoying the experience once you’re overseas. We have the simple secret to an easier study abroad experience.

One way to relieve this tension and create an easier study abroad experience is to learn the local language ahead of time. Studying abroad is a life changing experience and basic fluency in the local language will help you fully immerse yourself in the culture the moment you arrive.

What Language Skills Do You Need to Study Abroad?

You don’t need to master a foreign language to successfully study abroad. You should, however, achieve a basic level of proficiency.

Taking language lessons will not only give you more confidence when engaging with locals, but it’ll also give you a framework to practice and improve your fluency. With a few basic language lessons under your belt, you could be fluent by the end of your 6-12 month program (which is also a great thing to have on your resume to help you in your future career!).

Language Skills Needed for the Classroom, Socializing, and Traveling

Let’s say you’re a 20 year old college student who just enrolled in a study abroad program in Spain with no previous knowledge of the Spanish language. To effectively socialize and assert yourself in the classroom , you should become a beginner or “waystage” speaker of the foreign language.

A beginner-level user can understand and use familiar, everyday expressions, introduce themselves, and interact with locals at a basic level.

At the “waystage” level, the user can understand sentences and frequently used expressions. You can have deeper conversations, intently listen to conversations, and ask better questions relating to your field of study or career. 

Roughly speaking, 100 hours of study and practice will get you to an beginner level, and 200 hours will get you to an waystage level. While abroad, you could very well add on 100-500 hours of practice time, landing you in the “Independent User” category.

While being at a waystage level isn’t mandatory when you start your program, it’s highly encouraged for more serious learners so you can advance to the “Independent User” category while abroad.

So how do you achieve beginner or waystage proficiency in time for your program?

How Tutoring Accelerates Language Learning

Learning new languages has never been more accessible than it is today. A quick Google search leads to hundreds of options, such as:

  • Language lesson apps (free or paid)
  • Language classes or programs at nearby colleges
  • Private 1-on-1 tutoring

Students enrolled in study abroad programs typically don’t have the luxury of time to learn a language. With this in mind, private language tutoring is one of the fastest and best ways to learn the essentials.

The internet offers a vast marketplace of language tutors, so how do you narrow it down to a tutor that’s right for you?

Here are some questions you should yourself ask prior to investing your money in a language tutor.

Should I take 1-on-1 language lessons online or in-person? Which option suits my needs and goals better?

Online Spanish lessons are generally cheaper than finding a local tutor, especially in metro areas. For example, online Spanish lessons with an expert tutor from TakeLessons cost, on average, $45 per 60-minute session. If you’re booking a local tutor in New York City, the average cost is $62 per 60-minute session.

Online lessons give college students the flexibility of more teachers to choose from. For example, can specifically look for a teacher who has traveled to, or lived in, your study abroad destination.

How can the teacher relate to my study abroad experience?

If you’re studying abroad in Spain, you don’t just want any Spanish tutor. You can search for a teacher who lived in Spain, so they can give you tips on local customs. They can also integrate your Spanish lessons in the context of the cities you plan to visit and the activities you’ll experience.

Just as important, they can help you distinguish Castilian Spanish from Mexican Spanish. The differences in some dialects might be minor, but they are definitely worth learning in advance.

Assess every teacher’s unique qualifications. Look at certifications, their overall teaching experience, and reviews from previous students. Look for 5-star ratings, but also read the reviews to learn why that teacher was perfect for that particular student.

What strategies does the teacher use to make learning easier?

Good teachers teach concepts and theories accurately, by the book. Great teachers teach outside the box using memorization techniques and engaging in open dialogue to help accelerate the learning process. This is key to breaking down mental barriers when dealing with complex concepts. 

Does the teacher offer group classes? Do you learn better in groups?

You can only ask so many questions to evaluate potential tutors. Taking a group class is a low-risk way to try out a teacher and see if he or she is a good fit for private lessons. In a group class, you can experience their teaching style and overall personality in a more casual learning environment.

A more affordable way to start your learning journey is to take group classes. If you enjoy learning and practicing your conversation skills in groups, check out the online classes at TakeLessons Live.

With their free, 30-day trial for new students, it’s a perfect chance to take a few classes and if you like your teacher, you can hire them for private lessons.

 How much time are you able to dedicate to personal study?

Striking a study-work-life balance is already a challenge most college students struggle with. To add an intensive language program on top of that can seem like adding an extra class to your schedule. For every hour you invest with a tutor, you should invest at least three hours of personal study time.

Length and Cost of Language Tutoring

Wondering how long you should take language lessons? It depends, as there are many factors that go into successfully learning a language at a basic level.

  • If you speak English, a Category 5 language like Arabic or Japanese takes 4 times longer to learn than a Category 1 language, like Spanish or Italian.
  • Some students grew up taking foreign language classes in middle school, high school, or college, which will speed up the learning process.
  • If you already speak 2 languages, it’s easier to learn a third.
  • The teacher’s ability to work with your learning style also plays a role.
  • The amount of time you’re able to devote to practicing the language directly affects how long it will take you to learn.

The total cost of learning a language will also be affected by these factors. Whether you aspire for beginner or intermediate fluency, set a goal of study hours you’ll dedicate in total before you start the program. Based on that total number, you can calculate tutoring costs.

For example, you can use a 10x rule of thumb. For every one hour of private tutoring lessons you take, commit to 9 hours of self study and practice time. Based on this rule, 10 one-hour tutoring sessions can get you to the 100-hour mark of a beginner user, and 20 one-hour sessions can get you to be a waystage user.  

At an estimated cost of $50 per hour-long lesson, beginner fluency would cost you $500, and waystage-level fluency would cost $1,000.

Say if you need an hour of tutoring for every 5 total hours of personal study time. The 5x rule of thumb would equate to $1000 to reach beginner, and $2,000 to reach waystage-level.

Setting specific and realistic goals like this will help you stick to a plan. You can schedule lessons and master your new language by the time your flight takes off. Taking language tutoring will prepare you to enjoy and appreciate the study abroad experience for all its worth!


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