One of the big reasons that people like to take part in study-abroad programs is for the opportunity to further their ability in a secondary language. This is especially true for American students in particular, given that most Americans only speak one language with no other secondary language whatsoever, meaning they are more motivated than students from other parts of the world to learn another language.
However, no matter what language you are trying to learn, there is always a wall that students inevitably end up hitting. Despite studying all of the grammar and having a fairly extensive vocabulary, you just aren’t able to ascend to total fluency in that new language. Although this can be a mystery to a lot of students, especially for those who spend long hours studying and trying to master the language on their own, there is actually a fairly simple reason this always happens to new language learners. That reason is that they are not living and breathing the language at all times.
You see, as good as it is to master the grammar and the vocabulary of any new language, that is really just a baseline starting point. Even though you may know the language from a classroom setting, you actually need to go out and use it to really become fluent in the language. And this doesn’t mean just using it in the classroom talking to your peers. Rather, you need to be using it consistently in everything you do. From as soon as you wake up to the moment you go to bed, you should be speaking nothing but your new language.
This is where living abroad becomes a huge asset. Because the rest of whatever country you are in already speaks this language extensively, you will inevitably be put into a position where everything that you interact with is in this new language. If you make an effort to only speak in this new language, you very quickly become significantly better in said language. In fact, it’s not unreasonable for you to become semi-fluent within a few months’ time (by this I mean not necessarily fluent, but skillful enough to hold a conversation on your own without much thought and effort on your part).
However, it is up to you to make sure that you take advantage of this study-abroad environment. In many places around the world, especially all over Europe, most people also readily speak English, meaning it can be very easy to cave in and resort to communicating in English due to convenience. While this can be beneficial from a practical standpoint, it comes at the cost of your language learning goals. For every word you speak in English rather than your new language, you lose out on a golden opportunity to work your way towards fluency. And given that study-abroad trips are temporary by nature, it is even more imperative that you take advantage of the limited time you have in the country to work on your language.
In truth, learning a language, while not the easiest thing in the world, is not too difficult if you are put into a situation where you absolutely live and breathe just that language. Thankfully that is exactly what any study-abroad program does for prospective language learners. However, the key is to actually make sure you go about living and breathing your new language at all times while you are abroad. So long as you do that, you can rest assured that you will come back home from your study-abroad trip significantly better in your new language, if not totally fluent in it!