Published 11th May 2016


Possibly one of the biggest apprehensions people have about moving to another country and being a TEFL teacher is not being able to speak the language – or, even worse, not being able to speak or read the language. Imagine getting off the plane in South Korea, exhausted, and not being able to figure out where to go to even get out of the airport!

Of course the advice we are all given is to learn the language. It will help us integrate into the community and help us make friends, and of course it would just generally make our lives a bit easier.

But that’s easier said than done. You are not only having to deal with arriving in a new country but you also have to start a new job, find a place to live, organise your phone and internet , get used to your neighbourhood and so many other things that in the first few weeks or months there will scarcely be time to skype your mum!

So instead of freaking out about learning a new language, make sure you follow these tips to getting over the language barrier without learning the language until you get some time to do some studying.

1. Have the addresses you need written down.

If you are smart, one of the first things you will do is make sure you have your school address written down, but don’t forget that you also need to know where you live. Often if you live in an apartment you can find a business card with the name and address on it; if you can’t, ask someone to write down your address.

Make sure you know how to say your address – writing it in phonetics is usually a good idea. Don’t count on being able to direct a taxi driver because they can very easily take a different route to the one you know.

Finding out local, popular landmarks is also a good idea. If everyone knows your school as the one opposite the Landmark Plaza, make sure you know that so you can use that to help your taxi driver.

2. Always have credit on your phone and have a local friend on speed-dial.

There will be times when you are trying to get somewhere or get home and the taxi driver has no idea what you are trying to say or where you want to go. Calling your friend and asking him or her to explain is a very easy way of overcoming this problem.

3. Get a phrasebook.

Buy a small phrasebook with all the key phrases you will need and don’t be afraid to use it. Sometimes you can be saying the correct phrase but people will still not be able to understand you. Being able to show people in a book what you are trying to say can save a lot of stress and frustration.

Phrasebooks might be a little outdated because of Google Translate and fancy apps, but you never know when your phone’s battery will run out or you will have no access to technology.

Even though living in a place where you cannot understand anything you hear or read can be very daunting, there are still ways for you to get around relatively easily for the first few weeks until you feel more comfortable.