5 things to do and avoid if you’re studying English abroad

As a guy who enjoys learning languages, I’ve had the privilege to meet many international students who have come to Canada to learn English. I’ve also met a few international students abroad during my limited travels.

I’ve compiled a list of a few of the mistakes that I’ve noticed that many of them make while abroad. I hope that I can use this post to prevent more people from making similar mistakes and to help future international students maximize their time abroad and make it worth the hundreds if not thousands of dollars that they spend just to study English abroad. This post is going to focus on international students in Canada because that’s where I met the vast majority of them. 


Ignore the capital letters, I promise I’m not yelling at you guys, but I really felt like I needed to emphasize that. I’ve met hundreds of international students over the past 5 Years who’ve come to Canada to learn English and never talk to Canadians! I can’t count how many times I’ve heard “You’re the first Canadian I’ve ever really talked to” when meeting an international student for the first time. If you’re already in Canada or the country that speaks the language you’re learning, you’re sitting on a GOLD MINE. Go out and talk to the locals. Learn about the culture, how people think and about their dreams and aspirations. Immerse yourself! You’ll improve your English so much faster if you spend more time with locals. The best speakers of English that I’ve met were the people who moved to smaller towns and spent time with locals. The people who struggled the most were normally the people who moved to Toronto or other big cities and hung out entirely in groups of other international students and that leads into the second point.


Once again, ignore the capital letters. I promise I’m still not yelling, but somebody needs to say this. As I mentioned under the first point, you’re in Canada. That means you should try to spend as much time with Canadians as possible. You want to get the most bang for you buck. If you’re a Brazilian who pays thousands of dollars to come to Canada, spends a couple of hours day in class and then spends the rest of the day speaking Portuguese with your other Brazilian friends, then you could have just saved yourself thousands of dollars, avoided the risk of freezing in our terrible winters and learned English in Brazil. That goes for people coming from ANY country, not just Brazil.

I’m not saying that you shouldn’t come to Canada to learn English and I’m also not saying that you shouldn’t make friends with the other international students in your classes, but try and maximize your time with the locals and minimize the time you spend with other learners of English. The main reason for this is that if two non native speakers speak English with each other, they run the risk of copying each other’s mistakes. Some people argue that “Some practice is better than no practice at all”, but that’s not a valid argument if you’re in the country where the language you’re learning is spoken. That would only be valid if you were still in your home country. I’m not saying that you should ignore all your classmates and never speak to non native speakers ever, I’m just saying that you should spend as much time speaking with native speakers as possible. I remember I overheard two International students talking to each other. They weren’t sure how to express something in English and the conversation went something like this

Student A: “How do you use the verb “to take” in the past tense?”

Student B: “It’s taked, man”

Student A: “So I should say that I taked my homework home?”

Student B: “Yes, that’s correct”

Obviously the students would most likely still be understood, but my point is that if that conversation had been between a native speaker and a student, then the native speaker would have been able to just correct the student.

Number 3:

Alright, so that time I actually am yelling! That’s one of the biggest mistakes that I continuously see people make. That goes for myself, people who go abroad to learn languages and people who learn languages in their home countries. Learning a language is a lifestyle change. The language has to become part of your life otherwise you’ll forget it. If you’re learning in a classroom, then ask your teacher to recommend some local music to you or watch tv series on Netflix in English with English subtitles.The learning doesn’t stop when the class does, the learning gets more intense and fun when you leave the classroom. Classes generally follow curriculums and don’t offer as much freedom as self study does. Once you’re outside of the classroom, learn what ever you want and need! Learn slang, colloquialisms and make it fun

Self study may seem intimidating at first, but it it’s not. As I mentioned before, just sitting at home and watching Netflix in English with English subtitles counts as practice. Don’t we all want an excuse to watch Netflix without feeling guilty? I know I do! I personally just finished watching a Brazilian show on Netflix called 3%. It’s a really good show and I recommend it to all of you if you haven’t seen or heard of it. I watched it in the original Portuguese with Portuguese subtitles and my Portuguese actually Improved a little bit after just two seasons. I was so enthralled by the show that I forgot I was learning. Thats how it should be.

Number 4:
Don’t be afraid of the locals

You’ve all heard the stereotypes! Canadians are nice people. We can’t say sorry to you or ask you what you’re talking “aboot” if you don’t approach us. We don’t bite. Despite this, I’ve heard countless international students tell me that they’re too scared to talk to locals. The biggest reason is that they’re scared that they’ll reject them based on their levels of English. You don’t have to worry about that. Canada is a multicultural country. We hear so many different accents of English on a daily bases that some of us are numb to it now. We don’t even notice. As long as you can make yourself understood without too much effort, most people will be glad to talk to you. Obviously there are mean people in every country, so you might bump into the occasional asshole, but every asshole can become a friend if you offer them a box of Timbits and coffee from Tim Hortons. If the Timbits don’t work, a doughnut will save the day! As a Canadian, I can safely say, that thats the key to any Canadian’s heart.

I’ll stop with the stereotypes now… Anyway, most people will  probably treat you with respect. Don’t be afraid, small talk is very popular in English a lot of speaking countries, so just say Hello and start practicing your English. There’s nothing to be afraid of and don’t forget the doughnuts!

Number 5:
Don’t get lazy with your English once you’ve returned to your home country

Tons of international students have told me that they ended up forgetting a lot of what they learned once they returned home. I’m not going to lie, I got lazy with some of my languages too when I returned to Canada after my one month Europe trip, but this isn’t about my laziness, it’s about helping international students get the most for their money and time abroad

It’s sad that so many of them kind of drop English when they go back home because they spend thousands of dollars to come here and learn and a lot of it just gets thrown away sometimes. I have some good news though!  If you’re able to read this blog post, that means that you have an internet connection. An internet connection means that you can continue to learn. That means that you don’t need to forget all of the English you learned!  There are tons of online resources for learning languages and I’ll list a few right here to guid you guys onto the right path

Lingq is a great website that I personally use myself when I learn different languages. This is how lingq works. They have dialogues that you read and listen to at the same time. When you first start, all the words you don’t know will be highlighted in light blue. If you struggle with a certain word, then you can turn it into a “lingq” which will means that the word will now be highlighted in yellow instead of light blue and the site will compile all of your “lingqs” and show them to you as flashcards to help you memorize them. Once you’ve learned a word, you can hover over it and click “known”. All known words stop being highlighted and just look like normal text. Lingq has a free Version and a paid version. You can chose which version suits you best. Obviously the paid version comes with more features though. I personally like lingq because it allows me to get a lot of input and I can also measure my progress using the known word counter they have, and also by how less and less of the words in the dialogues are highlighted over time. Another cool feature about lingq is that you can book time with tutors who will help you improve your abilities further. I haven’t used this feature yet, but I’m planning to use it in the near future.

Memrise is a great website that uses spaced repetition to help you learn. I personally used it to significantly increase the speed at which I learned Chinese characters, to learn to read Hebrew and much more, but you can use it to learn vocabulary in English. Memrise is almost like a game, so sometimes you forget that you’re studying and they use really interesting and sometimes funny pneumonic devices to help you remember words. I highly recommend it.

Last, but not least, we have conversation exchange. This website is free and allows you to find language exchange partners. You can talk online or you can actually meet up in person. It’s your choice. It’s a wonderful site and i’ve used it for every single language i’ve ever learned. You DO have to be careful at times because some people are NOT on the site to learn languages if you catch my drift *Winks*. I guess that goes with all websites that are meant to be used to meet people and most people ARE interested in exchanging languages, but just watch out for creepy people and you should be alright. I’ve personally made a lot of cool friends on this website and stayed in contact with them for years. It’s a great way to be able to practice languages without even having to leave your living room. You could even learn in your pyjamas if you wanted to. Who would turn that down?

Wrapping everything up

Alright, so to wrap everything up, those were 5 things that I’ve noticed international students either doing or not doing while abroad. I really hope this helps and I feel like if I can prevent even one student from making these mistakes that i’ve done my  good deed for today, tomorrow or when ever this post gets read. I want to help you guys either save your money or make the most of the money you’ve already spent because learning English doesn’t need to be insanely expensive. I’ve dabbled in over 20 languages since 2008. Is that to say that I can speak over 20 languages? No, far from it. I only claim to speak 9. My point is that after 10 years and dabbling in more than 20 languages, I haven’t spent near as much as some of these students spend. It IS possible to learn a language cheaply and it IS possible to learn without going abroad. I’ve never lived outside of Canada ever in my entire life and I was able to learn 9 languages to varying degrees of efficiency. There is no special gift required. I’m proof that you don’t need to spend thousands of dollars to learn. EVERYONE can do what I do with the right knowledge and guidance. It took me years to learn all that I know now, so I want to try and show you guys  short cuts, so that you can all save money while still learning more.

Thank you for reading this post and remember, you CAN improve your English!


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