The Role of Study Abroad in Learning a New Language


Learning a new language has been a hot subject for research in the recent years. Of the many benefits that have been identified, research has correlated higher academic achievements with learning a new language. This heightened performance includes higher standardized test scores and better reading abilities. Research has also found improved cognitive abilities with learning a new language and correlated higher intelligence with bilingualism. Not only that, but research suggests that language learners develop a more positive attitude toward the target language or the speakers of that language. All of these findings support the claim that learning foreign languages shapes an intelligent, empathetic citizen of the world.

The benefits of learning a new language, however, come with a great cost; learning a new language requires major time allocation and dedication. Even then, learning a new language can be very difficult because it requires our brains to construct a new cognitive framework. Research from MIT suggests that the reason it is so much harder for adults to learn a new language than kids is because adults tend to over-analyze hindering their ability to pick up a foreign language’s subtle nuances.

While learning a new language is not by any means an easy process – nothing truly worthwhile is – it is definitely enjoyable and rewarding. While our brains will never be as plastic as kids’ brains, we can be as curious as them. In order to achieve that level of curiosity, one has to be immersed in a foreign environment. This unique exposure forces our brains to become adept at constructing new cognitive framework which is optimal for the facilitation of learning a new language. Going on a study abroad program combines language learning with travel and cultural immersion making it the ideal method for effectively learning a foreign language.

While studying abroad is ideal for learning a new language, like any other experience, the fruits cannot be reaped by simply going through the program; they are reaped through stepping out of one’s comfort zone and making peace with being unfamiliar with the culture and language. With the right mindset and commitment, one can further optimize the benefits of the study abroad program by practicing certain methods and making good use of helpful tips.  The main and most important method is setting clear and realistic goals and following through with them. The goal could be as simple as having at least one complete conversation everyday with someone other than the host family, which is a good prompt to try to talk to new people and say something more than just your food order or ask how much something costs. Another very useful method to make the best out of the program meeting with language partners through local universities allowing students to immerse further into the culture.

There are many other methods such as getting involved in the community and volunteering. However, the most important factor of it all is having a positive attitude and being willing to make mistakes. After all, the long-term goal of mastering the foreign language is what matters; it takes commitment and overcoming failure or embarrassment.



Works Cited

Peal, E., & Lambert, W. E. (1962). The relation of bilingualism to intelligence. Psychological Monographs, 76(27, Whole No. 546), 23. from PsycINFO database.

Armstrong, P. W., & Rogers, J. D. (1997). Basic skills revisited: The effects of foreign language instruction on reading, math, and language arts. Learning Languages, 2(3), 20-31.

Bamford, K. W., & Mizokawa, D. T. (1989). Cognitive and attitudinal outcomes of an additive-bilingual program. U.S.; Washington:  ED305826

Kessler, C., & Quinn, M. E. (1980). Positive effects of bilingualism on Science problem-solving abilities. In J. Alatis (Ed.), Georgetown  Universityround table on languages and linguistics (pp. 295-308). Washington, DC: Georgetown University Press, from Linguistics and Language Behavior Abstracts database.


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