We humans are social animals.
If you have high status within your social group (your tribe), you generally feel better. Youíll enjoy all kinds of privileges that those lower on the social ladder can only dream of.
You even get sick less and live longer.
No wonder everybody wants high social status in one form or another.
If you are going to live abroad, you are leaving your tribe to be surrounded by another.
And then, sooner or later, you will find that you are not one of “them”. In other words: you have a low social status.
And if you have a low social status, you often feel bad.
You will not notice this if you only visit a country. But if you live there, this reality will slowly start revealing itself to you.
You’re Not One of Them
The fate of the immigrant is that he is not one of “them”. He does not belong to the dominant tribe of the country.
That is, unless he integrates with the tribe. But to do that, he has to let go of himself. This is necessary to increase his social status.
If you want to increase your social status, you’ll need social skills. And those skills, in turn, require a good command of the local language.
But the problem is, you may not like certain social elements of a language and reject them because, hey, you must be yourself, right?
Maybe the local language has a lot of slang and vulgarities. You may consider yourself too good for that shit (pun intended).
But if that’s the way the language is spoken by an average Joe in your new country, and you truly want to integrate and increase your social status, you have no choice but to embrace it.
On the other hand, if you reject those things and keep talking in your elitist formal version of the language, integration will be hard.
And if you don’t integrate, you will not attain a decent social status.
Some kind of expat community may fulfill these needs, but then you could have just stayed home.
Learn the Language of the People
Why do you learn a new language?
If you’re like most people, you learn one because you want to socialize with native speakers.
So you must learn the language they speak.
In order to gain social status and feel good in your new country, you need to speak the language of the people.
That doesn’t mean you should learn that version of the language from the start, though.
The formal course version of a language is an excellent framework to start with. But you must evolve when you’re ready for more colloquial language.
Here Are 6 Ways to Learn the Language of the People:
Start watching TV in your new language. Avoid the news or other formal programs. Try to find local shows aimed at young people (not children, unless you want to talk like a cartoon character).
Constantly ask for feedback. Not from everybody, of course, but from people you trust. You’ll have to repeat this request from time to time because, as long they can understand you, it’s not natural to give feedback on a consistent basis. In other words, they will not keep giving you feedback unless you ask every now and then.
Copy, Copy, Copy. When we were children, copying other people came natural to us. It didnít feel awkward at all. This changes as we mature and our perception of ourselves becomes more fixed. To combat this, you must place emphasis on copying native speakers. The words they use, the way they talk, even facial expressions. Don’t be afraid to overact a little. If you practice what’s not intuitive, it will soon feel natural.
Don’t forget the back-end of language learning. Once you’re at the high-intermediate stage, it’s easy to drop most learning methods and only learn in the wild. This is a mistake. Yeah, you’re probably not going back to your beginner course, but if you mix learning in the wild with more deliberate learning methods or exercises, your progress will shoot through the roof. If you go out in the real world, or even watch TV, you’ll come across stuff you haven’t mastered yet. Write it down. Work with it when you’re alone. Even making 20 sentences with a word you didn’t know yet can be sufficient. Then go back out and use the word in the real world. Repeat this process just as you would with flashcards, with spaced repetition and all.
Socialize. Assuming you have a good baseline to work with, go out and talk to people. You have to practice your new language. While it’s tough to learn a new language from scratch this way, you’ll definitely learn some frequently used words you may not find in a dictionary.
Use modern language tools to learn from real-life content. In the old days, access to multimedia content was limited. That has changed completely because of the Internet. Real-life content in your target language is everywhere. But it may not always be directly consumable for the language learner. You can use a tool like Yabla to learn from real-life video content. With Yabla you can watch interesting videos and use its learning tools to really master the videosí content.
Learning the Language Is Only Half the Battle
Speaking the language is extremely important.
Without it you can’t socializeÖ And if you can’t socialize, you won’t gain social statusÖ And without some sort of social status, you’re not likely to feel at home in your new country.
But just learning the language isn’t enough.
You also need to have the right mindset and learn about the finer distinctions of the culture. Which are all things you will NEVER learn on a vacation, or if you only hang out with tourists and expats.
To help you with all this, here are some things to keep in mind. If you do most of them, you will integrate well into your new culture:
Socialize. The most important thing in understanding a culture. By hanging out with natives, you slowly learn how the culture functions and how they behave. Make sure you’re up to date with current national issues and events, as this is what people will likely talk about. To be part of the tribe, you must know what the people in it care about.
Get some trusted friends. And ask about things you don’t understand or don’t like. This may be a little bit uncomfortable, but it helps you integrate. Ask for feedback on the language, but also on the culture.
Respect the culture. This may mean that you have to change yourself – or keep your mouth shut sometimes.
Don’t be afraid of a night out. A bit of booze is fine, as long as you know how to control yourself. It also makes it easier to make new friends.
Observe and Copy. As mentioned, for an adult this can be hard. No worries, it becomes easier with time. All socializing is acting. It doesn’t feel that way in your native culture because you have practiced a lot. Now it’s time to practice something different.
Let go of the help you’ve been receiving. If a native speaker has been helping you with official stuff, running errands for you etc., but you already speak the language well enough that you could do it yourself, do it! Become independent. Make mistakes, experience the awkwardness of it all… and then laugh about it later.
Find out what people laugh about…and what they don’t! Senses of humor differ from culture to culture. Jokes we see as innocent can be extremely offensive in some countries and vice versa. Observe and learn about the standard of humor in your new country. Mistakes are allowed. Let’s laugh about them.
Laugh about yourself. Even if you speak the language very well, you are still different. And if you’re different, people will make fun of you. You can cry about it, but it’s a universal law: people with a funny accent get ridiculed. I bet you’ve done this yourself, too. So accept reality, as this something you can’t change. You can only change your reaction to it. So if they make jokes about you, laughÖ then, join them. Exaggerate the jokes about yourself. This will let them know you’re strong mentally and they will respect you for it. It will also let them know they can have fun with you.
Don’t be too nice. In some cultures, being all nicey nicey conveys weakness. Vulnerability can get you in trouble. Don’t lower your guard too much until you know the other person. Be reserved and polite, but save the overly nice version of yourself for people you can trust.
Let’s Do This
We think of social status as a dirty word.
If you subscribe to this view, you’re shooting yourself in the foot.
Just by being a foreigner, you’re already somewhat isolated. You have to integrate, make friends and, yes, increase your social status in your new country to get past this.
You can choose to wait for it all to come to you someday (hint: itís not gonna happen all by itself)… Or use the information in this post to improve your quality of life…
This post was written by Noel from Smart Language Learner. To get more from Noel visit his blog at: SmartLanguageLearner.com.