It is often said that the best way to learn a language is to go and live in a country where it is spoken. It may be true but it is easier said than done. The biggest obstacle for most of us is cost. A residential language course can cost upwards of 1500€ for just two weeks. Here we look at some practical alternatives for those of us on a limited budget.
It is important to remember that there is nothing like necessity as a way of improving your language skills. The ideas we’ve listed below require you to interact and communicate with native speakers of English on a daily basis. We hope they can making living abroad for a short period an affordable and enjoyable way to learn English.
This post focuses on opportunities within the UK. However, many of the options would apply equally to other English-speaking countries.
There are a number of organisations that can help you find a way to volunteer in the UK. Many of these can provide accommodation, meals and in some cases a small allowance.
Do-it is a database of UK volunteering opportunities. You can search more than a million volunteering opportunities by interest, activity or location and then apply online.
We have chosen two organisations below to look at in a bit more detail:
The London Hostels Association
LHA was set up in 1940 to provide accommodation for people made homeless by the Blitz. It now caters for students, young professionals and people new to living in London.
With numerous sites across the capital city they are constantly in need of volunteers to help maintain the service at a high standard. The duties of a volunteer normally take up 20 – 22 hours a week and can include:
General cleaning and portering
Helping on reception
Helping in the kitchen
In return, they offer free shared accommodation and in most cases free meals.
To apply, you can email your CV to firstname.lastname@example.org
Set up in the UK in the 1970s, World-Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms has grown into an international organisation. WWOOF is a work exchange programme where in return for 4 – 6 hours work on an organic farm you’ll receive free bed and board. It provides opportunities to learn new skills and find out about organic and environmentally sustainable farming. It also allows you to visit some beautiful locations in rural Britain that you would not normally get the chance to visit.
By working on the farm with your hosts, you’ll be able to practise English daily and you’ll have time off to explore the surrounding areas.
There is a membership fee of around 25€ payable through their website:
See also the post on this blog about WWOOFING
The aim of couchsurfing is to encourage cultural exchange, international respect and understanding. It seeks to do this through an online community in which people offer up their couches (or beds, or floors) for travellers to sleep on — free of charge.
Rather than stay in cheap hostels where you’ll probably meet speakers of your own language, you can stay with locals and practise your English. If you’re planning on visiting a large city you can stay for a few nights with a number of different fellow couchsurfers. Once you’ve built up a network of contacts you’ll have the chance to continue practising your English if they come and visit you in your home town at a later date.
They have a very informative website at http://www.couchsurfing.com Here you’ll find plenty of useful advice about safety and preparing your trip in general.
3. Teach Your Language
Spanish is a very popular language in the UK and there are many opportunities to teach both adults and children. There is a very well developed network of adult education colleges in the UK run by local authorities which provide general and exam based language courses.
Floodlight is a website that provides a comprehensive list of courses available across the UK. Through this site you can contact the colleges directly in the area you want to work in and send them your CV.
Another possibility is to work as a Language Assistant in a UK school or college, supporting the teaching of your language in either a primary or secondary school, or a further or higher education institution.
In general, language assistants work between 12 and 18 hours a week for up to a year and receive a salary during their placement. Salaries vary depending on the area in which you work. Remember that the cost of living in London is higher than in other parts of the country. Salaries range between £900 and £1100 per month.
Two sites to find vacancies as a language assistant are:
4. Au Pair
If you like kids then becoming an au pair is an option. They have been around for many years and you’ve probably heard about good and bad experiences from people who have done it. However, one thing is for certain, it’s a good way to learn English. Constant communication with the parents and children is essential. It’s true that some parents will want you to speak your native language to their children. However, even in these cases you’ll be listening and communicating a great deal in English.
BAPAA The British Au Pair Agencies Association is a non-profit organisation set up to maintain standards for the au pair industry, They have a list of reputable agencies as well as advice and information for those wishing to become an au pair. If you register with them they provide certain benefits such as 24 hour helplines, putting you in touch with other au pairs, discounts on medical and other insurance and they organise daytrips and events for you free time.
Housesitting allows you free accommodation for a period in another country. While it won’t put you in direct contact with native speakers, it will allow you time to pursue another activity such as volunteering or teaching.
In exchange for free accommodation, homeowners hand over their keys to people willing to take care of their house while they’re away. Obviously, no-one is going to allow just anybody to live in their house, so you’ll have to convince them you’re a responsible and reliable person.
You will be expected to keep the house safe, tidy and in a good condition until the owner returns. It is quite common for house-sitters to have to look after pets too – not just cats and dogs!. Some homeowners will request specific tasks for you to do, such as taking care of the garden, but this should all be discussed and agreed on in advance.
To find out more:
HouseCarers is a well established site You’ll need to join (around £30 for the year) and set up a profile that home owners can see in order to consider you.
MindMyHouse has has similar opportunities and a registration fee of £12 for 12 months.
TrustedHousesitters is another large site with slightly more expensive registration costs at £29 for three months, £39 for six months or £49 for twelve months.