5 Reasons to Learn the Language Basics Before you Study Abroad

Group of happy students at their desks in college classroom

How do you prepare for a semester abroad? A lot of the details are taken care of for you – a place to stay, a place to study, and a group of people to share the experience with. You might even be set up with a language class once you arrive to learn some of the language. However, the language learning is better off started before you step foot out of the country. Here are some of the top benefits reported for studying the language of the country visited before leaving.

Softening the Culture Shock

Traveling to a new country brings a lot of change at one time. You will be in a new landscape with people speaking a different language. There will be new rules and norms for catching a cab, ordering food, and dressing. It can be a bit of a shock to have all of this change at one time. These first few days and weeks in this new country should be the experience of a lifetime and best spent without having to go through much of an adjustment period. Learning just the essentials of this new language can help reduce this shock quite a bit upon arrival. Learn how  greet others when you meet them and get familiar with the language you will be hearing all around you. You might even be able to pick up a word here and there.

Building Excitement

There are many aspects of studying abroad that are exciting. Being engulfed in the culture of a new country brings history, seeing museums and old buildings, hearing stories, meeting new people, and speaking the language of the country. A lot of this can be done before you ever step foot in that new country. Learning the language and practicing the basics with your friends is one way to not only get familiar with the language, but build the excitement of getting to use these new phrases with people in your country of study.

Offers a Stepping Stone

Hopefully in your time studying abroad, you will get familiar with the language and be able to have small conversations before you come home. Knowing the basics before you travel can help kickstart this learning of the language. Learn the basics before you go – greetings, ordering food, asking directions, and phrases that will help you learn more, such as “How do you say…? These basics will make it easier to get off the beaten path and adventure out on your own even from day one in this new country. As long as you know how to ask for directions, greet others and interact with employees in shops, you will be able to get around the towns easily.

Meeting New Friends

Time studying abroad is limited and it will be over before you know it. So there is no time to waste when it comes to meeting new people. Be able to introduce yourself and meet new people right away to ensure that you take full advantage of your time in this new country. Even if you can’t carry on the conversation past telling the other person where you are from, greeting others in their own language and putting forth an effort is, a lot of the time, enough to show that you are friendly and continue a friendship.


No matter how well your trip is planned, it is always best to steer on the safe side. What will you do if you find yourself separated from others you know and need to find your way back?  Or what if you lose your phone and wallet? Knowing the language will help you to find your way back and ask for help in locating your lost items or reporting them and getting back to where you need to be for additional help. For this look for phrases that teach both asking for directions and understanding the response – how do I get to, turn right, turn left, 3 miles.

You don’t have to learn the entire language or be fluent by any means. This will hopefully build over time while you are studying abroad. There are some tools that you can use to get this basic understanding of the language. Programs such as Duolingo, Fluent Forever and Rosetta Stone are meant more for learning the entire language long term. If you have a year or so before your trip, by all means, try these. But if you only have a few months to prepare for your trip, you can pick up a phrase book, like the one from Lonely Planet. The upside to this is that the book is small so you can pack it easily in your bag if needed as well. There are also online programs you can access to help study, such as flashcards for common phrases from The Tandem Traveler, or a three month program for travelers from Living Language. It can be difficult to figure out which phrases will be most useful while traveling when you don’t have a lot of time to pick up the language. These programs do that work for you.

Whatever you reason is, learn at least the 100 most common words and phrases for travelers. Time and again repeat travelers report that their experiences were so much better from travel where they studied the language first firsts trips where they dd not.

Guest Post by Lisa Sickman, MA, BCBA

lisa-sickmanLisa Sickman, MA, BCBA, is a behavior analyst and the Co-founder and Chief Learning Officer at The Tandem Traveler. The Tandem Traveler is an online company committed to teaching language to travelers for better cultural experiences abroad. 

The 3 Most Affordable European Countries For Studying Abroad Where You Get Bang For Your Buck




Summer 2016 has come to a close, which means summer 2017 is just around the corner. It’s time to start investigating summer study abroad programs. If you’ve had your eye on Europe but just cannot decide on which country to go to, we’ve narrowed it down so that you don’t have to. Here are the three best and most affordable European countries to study abroad in where you’ll get bang for your buck.


germanyGermany is special, above all, for the fact that students can now study for free at public universities. It’s an encouraging step forward for Europe as a whole, especially when compared with the ongoing student debt crisis in the United States.

Thanks to the German government’s efforts to empower its students, you can now study and live in one of the most advanced and innovative nations in the world. You’ll have the opportunity to enjoy some of the world’s finest beer while chatting with locals. You’ll see the world from a new perspective, all while receiving a stellar education.

Private universities will typically cost around €1,000 (approximately $1,100 USD) per term, and the education tends to be of a higher quality. That said, the highest ranked university in the country, LMU Munich, is a public institution. International university ranking company Times Higher Education ranked LMU Munich in the top 40 in the world. And just to add to the appeal, Munich, along with Berlin, is among the most cosmopolitan cities in the country.

The only setback is the cost of living. But if you plan to live on a budget, you have plenty more options in less touristy cities. There are a total of 109 public universities throughout the country of Germany, and they’re all free and waiting for you to apply.

Bear in mind, however, that this new free tuition policy is not without its flaws. The Guardian reported that many public universities are finding ways to tack on hidden fees to compensate for the lack of tuition income. So keep an eye out for administration costs and other such charges.



The French take their higher education very seriously, which means that if you choose France as your destination, you can rest assured that you’ll be in good hands. You’ll have upwards of forty different cities to choose from, all of which have higher education institutions with study abroad programs.

And as far as costs go, France rivals Germany. Forget a summer term. A bachelor’s degree in France will cost you no more than €200 EUR (about $225 USD) per year! A master’s will only cost about €260 a year. Specialized degrees like medicine can be a bit higher, but are still not even comparable to what a medical student must go through in the US. Of course, that is assuming that you are accepted. Particularly in the case of specialized schooling, admissions are extremely competitive. Let that act as incentive for you to get down to studying.

If you do manage to get in, you will see some of the most historic regions, art and architecture in the world. And, by default, you quite possibly will pick up a bit of French. Especially if you are living in Paris, you may notice that the French don’t always mix so nicely with Americans. But as is the case with the German elders, the more French you speak, the easier time you’ll have breaking that cultural barrier.



In January of this year, U.S. News voted Italy the best country for studying abroad. It’s dripping with history and culture. And it embraces a far more relaxed, party lifestyle to a much further extent than the other two countries on this list. And while on the topic of history, Italy is home to the single oldest still operating university in the world.

Tuition is unlikely to exceed €1,000 EUR per year, although it varies by institution. Regardless of which university you choose, a summer program will be more than reasonable.

Additionally, of the three countries in this list, Italy is the most affordable in terms of cost of living. Everything from food and drinks to rent in cities like Florence or Rome will run you less than what you would be paying in Paris or Munich.

If you’re careful with your money, you shouldn’t have to spend any more than €1,000 per month for everything, including entertainment and the obligatory living expenses, even in cities like Rome. For less known cities you can cut it down to even less.

Perhaps the greatest strength and simultaneously the greatest weakness of Italy is the language barrier. Some students in the past have expressed frustration over the fact that professors are sometimes less than fluent in English. This can limit communication, which is especially frustrating in cases where students are seeking extra help.

The education itself is solid. But without a basic to intermediate level of Italian, you may encounter some undesirable obstacles in your academic experience. In any case, language skills are as sought after of a professional skill as ever, so you would ultimately benefit from the challenge if you were to embrace it as such.

Studying abroad is your first opportunity to truly escape from the bubble you were raised in. It’s an opportunity to see the world through a new set of eyes. Take this opportunity in stride. From Abroad101, we sincerely hope you found this helpful. Did you agree with our list? Let us know in the comments section below.


Matt Dancis writes for Language Trainers, a language tutoring company that teaches any language, anytime, anywhere. It has native speaking instructors throughout the world who give customizable private or small group classes either in person or on Skype. Take one of their free language level tests. Matt is from Philadelphia and has spent the past several years living in Argentina and Colombia, splitting his time between writing and teaching English. To contact Matt with any questions, email him at matt@languagetrainers.com.