Anyone will tell you that the best way to learn a language is to completely immerse yourself in a country where it’s spoken. But where should you go? Where are the best places to learn a language abroad?
You’ll want to avoid places that are unsafe or full of English-speaking tourists. If you’re a beginner, skip regions that are known for speaking fast or having an accent that is difficult to understand. Look for cities that have inhabitants who are welcoming and friendly and areas with lots of cultural activities to participate in.
If you’re prepared to go all-in with your language-learning journey, here is a list of some of the best places to learn a language from people who have been there.
Learn Chinese (Mandarin)
Taipei City, the capital of the small island country of Taiwan, is one of the best places in the world to learn Mandarin. While Taiwan does have a local dialect, Taiwanese, Mandarin is also an official language and is the most widely spoken one in the capital city, not to mention being one of the most spoken and important languages in the world.
One reason Taipei is so suitable for learning Mandarin is that so many locals are equally interested in learning English. This gave birth to the concept of “language exchange”: essentially you meet up with a person or group of people, practice English with them for a while, then they teach you Mandarin for a similar amount of time. It’s totally free, and you also get to make new friends. There are numerous online groups devoted to it, so finding a suitable partner is a breeze.
For more serious students, however, there are numerous language schools in Taipei, as well as formal Mandarin programs in local universities. You can take a casual approach to learning, and perhaps teach English at the same time to maintain a working visa, or you can sign up for intensive studies and take advantage of the student visa that it provides. Personally, I lived in Taipei for over a decade, working full-time as a teacher and writer. I made my best progress in Mandarin by hiring private tutors, which charged very reasonable rates, and by practicing Mandarin whenever possible with locals such as taxi drivers, or later after I got married, my wife’s family. Definitely one obstacle when starting out is that locals are very keen to practice their English rather than speak Mandarin with you!
Besides the opportunities for learning Mandarin, Taipei is just a very comfortable city to base yourself in. It’s incredibly safe, the people are super warm and welcoming, the food is amazing, everything is very efficient, and there are loads of opportunities for hiking, surfing, and other fun activities in and around the city.
By Nick Kembel from Spiritual Travels
The beautiful city of Dublin, Ireland is one of the best places in Europe to learn English. As the capital of the Republic of Ireland, Dublin offers lots of things to do and is quite multicultural with lots of expats and foreigners. This cosmopolitan aspect can actually make it difficult to learn a language as lots of people living in Dublin are not native speakers.
That said, Dublin remains a great city to learn English for several reasons. First, it is one of the last English-speaking countries in the European Union. Under EU legislation, EU citizens can move to any EU country without a visa and must be treated as a national. This makes it extremely easy for any EU citizen to move to Dublin to learn English in comparison of the USA or Canada.
Second, Dubliners have an Irish accent that is a lot less strong than other accents in the country. This makes it much easier to understand locals and learn new words and expressions. Nothing more difficult than wanting to learn a language but not understanding any of what people are saying!
Dublin is also a great place to learn English as staying with locals is very common. If you are planning to come to Dublin to learn English, try staying with an Irish family for a full immersion during your stay. Staying with locals usually speeds up the process of learning a language since you are immersed in the native language all the time. Staying with roommates has more risks of you ending up speaking your native language or a basic English and that won’t help you improve. Websites like homestay.com can help you find the perfect host family. Irish people are very welcoming and are always up to have some craic!
Dublin is also a great place to be if you want to go to a language school part time to support your learning experience. You can use your free time to find a part-time job to enhance your immersion and earn money to travel the country!
By Mary from Be Right Back by Mary
Bordeaux is an incredibly underrated city in France and a great place to learn the language. The local dialect has a few quirks and specific words but it’s relatively easy to understand and neutral enough that you’ll be understood everywhere in France. The Newdeal Institute is a great place to get formal French lessons which are available both as a group or one on one. However, the best place to really immerse yourself in a new language is always the city itself. Bordeaux has a few great cultural attractions and lots of historic architecture. Go on a city walking tour to learn more about the beautiful buildings and many gothic churches that are scattered around the city.
A great day-trip is the little town of Saint Emilion which is home to some of the best and most famous wines in the world. Stroll through the small alleys and join a traditional wine tasting which will not only expand your vocabulary but also your palette. In the evenings, Bordeaux is full of life and a great place to meet new people and join language exchanges. Sit in one of the many cafes and bars and enjoy the beautiful city with your newfound French knowledge.
By Victoria from Guide Your Travel
Rostock may not be the most well-known city in Germany, but it’s a great destination to study the language! Situated up on the northern coast, Rostock is a port and university city with a vibrant energy and a charming old town.
As it’s a university city, there are lots of young people in Rostock (approximately 11,000 students) who come to study from all over the country. Because of this, you needn’t worry about your German accent setting you apart from the crowd. Plus, you may even be able to find a student who is keen to help with your German in exchange for an English language partner.
Though Rostock natives won’t speak the ‘High German’ dialect taught online and in schools, the regional Plattdeutsch is actually slightly more similar to English and arguably easier to understand. It’s certainly clearer than the Schwäbisch you will find down south in Bavaria.
Rostock has some fantastic free cultural activities that offer a great chance to learn some new vocabulary. The Culture Museum offers a fascinating mix of exhibits from city history to sacred art and even historic toys. As a result, you’re sure to find something that interests you.
Many of the exhibitions have English translations (allowing you to take advantage of parallel text) and as entry is free you can come back and test yourself as many times as you like! Similarly, there is no cost for visiting the university’s Botanical Garden, a beautiful attraction with weekly guided tours in German to immerse yourself in the language.
Just a 20-minute train ride from Rostock city centre you’ll find the picturesque seaside town of Warnemünde, complete with its own white sandy beach. Ordering a Fischbrötchen from the traditional fish market will give you some good speaking practice along with a true taste of north German culture.
By Beth C from The Train Diaries
If you want to learn Greek, Athens is the perfect place to do it! Why not combine an Athens city break with learning a new language? The people of Athens are very friendly and used to tourists trying out the language. Greek people are always happy when you try out the Greek language. The city of Athens is also perfect to learn about Greek culture; it is home to the world-famous Acropolis. Pop across the road, and you can visit the Acropolis museum and learn all about Greek culture and ancient Greeks. All over Athens, you’ll find ruins from Ancient Greece.
There are hundreds of amazing sights to visit in Athens once you’re there. Climb Lycabettus Hill to the highest point in Athens or go on a trip to the Athens Riviera to explore the beaches Athens has to offer. There are many day trips to nearby islands too. Hop on a boat to Poros island or explore the island of Andros for the day.
The Lamda project is the perfect company to choose from if you want to learn Greek while you’re in Athens. They offer all sorts of language courses, from Skype sessions anywhere in the world to a 4-week intensive culture and language course where you can combine Athens with the religious island of Tinos.
By Sylvie from European Cities with Kids
Rome to me is the perfect place to learn Italian. Yes, it is a touristy and chaotic capital city but it has kept its charm just as much.
Back in 2015, I studied Italian at Scuola Romit, an authentic and small-scale language school in the heart of the city. They offer different options and are very flexible when it comes to the duration of the course. So even if you’re just in town for a week, they’re more than happy to welcome you. You simply have to take an assessment on the first morning of your course and they assign you to a class of a certain language level. That way you know the classes are on your level and you’ll get the most of them.
In addition, the school works together with an accommodation provider that gives you a few different options to choose from, such as living-in with a local family, a private apartment, or a shared apartment. I opted for the latter and ended up at a lovely four-bedroom apartment in Trastevere. My flatmates were three students from a local university, and they could show me the city on a very local level.
Besides that, the language school organises tons of group dinners, guided tours, and movie nights, so you really get all the opportunities you need to immerse yourself into not just the Italian language, but also local culture and customs.
From my point of view, the fact that this language school is so small-scaled and personal made this an incredible experience. The people were extremely nice, both the lecturers, as well as the local community. Everyone was really open as well and supportive when you were trying to practice speaking the language. The only downside I would say is that at night, I didn’t always feel very safe being out alone. I had some uncomfortable experiences with Italian men following me and calling me names.
That however didn’t diminish the overall experience and I’m glad to say I’ll be back in 2022 for another round of Italian school.
By Maaike van Kuijk of Travellous World. Read Maaike’s post about the best views in Rome.
In my opinion, the best city to study Italian has to be Turin, Italy. Located in northwest Italy, midway between Milan and the French border, Turin was actually the original capital city of Italy. Because of its rich history, Turin is packed with historical sites including several Savoy palaces, Roman city gates and the Mole Antonelliana, which appears on the two-cent Euro coin. Turin also has one of Italy’s most vibrant nightlife scenes, with wine bars and cocktail bars throughout the historical center and nightclubs lining the banks of the Po River. When you take a language course in Turin you never run out of things to see and do outside of class!
There are a number of language programs offered in Turin, including private language schools and programs run through the University of Torino. You’ll have lots of opportunities to practice your Italian language skills after class, since there are few foreigners in Turin and daily life occurs almost entirely in Italian. You’ll also have lots of opportunities to meet Italians, as they come from all over the country to study at Turin’s world-class universities. This student culture keeps prices low compared to other Italian cities like Milan or Rome. Use the money that you saved to stay and study a bit longer, or to explore even more of Italy after your course!
By Carly from Fearless Female Travels
Salatiga, Java, Indonesia
My number one recommendation when looking for a place to learn a language abroad is to go to a country that doesn’t have a high rate of English speakers. My first second language experience was in Sweden, where everyone speaks better English than I will ever speak Swedish. That was one of the huge reasons I loved learning in Salatiga, Java, Indonesia. No one spoke English (outside of my teachers and my the 20 students on my course). You had to speak Indonesian every day.
I also remember in Sweden being very, very insecure about how well I spoke, my accent and whether or not every word was in the right order. In Indonesia, the goal was to communicate. I didn’t speak Indonesian for practice, I spoke it to get around. Having to do this all the time gave me the confidence to be bad at Indonesian. The bar was whether or not I got my meaning across. Did the Uber driver know where to pick me up from? Did my host family understand what I was asking? I became that person when in an Uber after I got through the whole. “I’m Kirstie, I’m a teacher at university learning to speak Indonesian to teach in Australia.” Which was well-rehearsed, to trying to form my own questions that honestly, would only ever be okay from a child or a language learner. What do you for job? Just taxi? Oh two jobs yes! You like job number two? You have brothers or sisters? They have jobs? And so on and so forth.
And of course, the people are kind. They’re not used to seeing tourists, but more than happy to share their lives. I studied as a part of ACICIS (Australian Consortium for In-Country Indonesian Study) which sends people, especially teachers to learn Indonesian in University towns all over Indonesia. I love getting to share that joy with my students. Not just the theory, but my own experience, my own understanding and my own memories.
By Kirstie from Innovative Global Teaching
I highly recommend learning Portuguese in Portugal. Many activities for learning Portuguese online is Brazilian, and as I quickly learned when I moved to Portugal- Brazilian Portuguese is very different to European Portuguese. The accent is entirely different, as is much of the vocabulary and grammar.
I studied at Lusa Language School in the heart of Lisbon, just behind the famous Time Out Market and on the edge of Pink Street. I took an intensive one week course on two separate occasions. Read about my experience here.
The teachers were lovely and supportive. It was total immersion – only Portuguese was spoken. It was a bit nerve-wracking at first, but you learned quickly. The class sizes were small – there were just four students in mine. Not every student could speak English, so you had to speak Portuguese to communicate even at break times.
The classes were held in the morning until lunchtime, and then you were free to explore. Lisbon is a beautiful and safe city. Being one of the oldest European nations, there is a lot of history and a lot to see.
It could sometimes be a little frustrating to order lunch after class or the famous Portuguese tart pastel de nata, and the waiter would then reply in English. But you only had to say that you were learning Portuguese and they were more than happy to work with you.
The Portuguese accent is a little tricky at first to understand, they tend to swallow the words, but you soon tune your ear with an intensive course.
I loved my time studying Portuguese. The people of Portugal are friendly; it’s a beautiful country to explore, and compared to other European countries, it’s relatively inexpensive.
By Sarah from Life Part 2 and Beyond
Let’s talk about the many great reasons to visit Brazil: beautiful beaches, Carnival festivities, access to rich cultural activities, delicious foods, and music that will keep you dancing till dawn. And that’s just scratching the surface. Brazil is also happens to be the place to learn the version of Portuguese you will hear most frequently in the Americas.
Brazilian Portuguese, especially when spoken, is different enough from the continental Portuguese used in Portugal. If you want to learn the language spoken with dancing rhythms, nasal intonations and a slightly slower cadence, head to Brazil.
While you will find no shortage of language schools in major cities like São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro, to really dig in and learn the language more quickly, head to lesser-known parts of the country.
Cities like Fortaleza and Maceio in the northeast of Brasil, still have the infrastructure of a large city, but not as many international tourists, meaning fewer chances to fall back to speaking English. Necessity is the mother of invention…and language learning!
In addition to having fewer English speakers, the Portuguese spoken in the northeast of Brazil tends to be slower than in Rio and São Paulo. The slower pace makes it easier to pick up and understand for new language learners.
Years ago when I wanted to improve my Portuguese, I spent 8 weeks living in Fortaleza in the state of Ceará, taking 1-on-1 classes with a private tutor. Our bi-weekly meetings allowed me to build upon the base foundation of Portuguese I’d studies in the States. Then beyond the classroom, I was able to put my lessons to the test through routine tasks like going out to restaurants, shopping for groceries and asking bus drivers for directions.
But no matter where you study, I highly recommend finding a hobby or sport that you enjoy that you can get involved in in your chosen city. Doing that will open other speaking opportunities, increase your vocabulary, and allow you to meet locals that you may otherwise not have.
In my case, I took classes in the Afro-Brazilian martial art of Capoeira. Attending these classes gave me a chance to develop my conversation skills with native speakers and provided a community of friends that I could socialize with outside of the classroom. The same would work with samba classes, cooking lessons or taking a painting class at a local art school. Find something you already enjoy doing, or have been wanting to try, and that will give you even more incentive and opportunity to learn a new language.
Boã Sorte e Diverte-se!
By Nailah from There’s So Much To See!
Every Spanish-speaking country has its own accent (and even different nouns and verbs that describe the same thing), so to learn Spain’s way of speaking, you must head to Madrid. Even in Spain itself, you’ll come across different accents and dialects as you explore the country’s regions, so Madrid is great to learn “classic” Spanish. It does take a little bit of time to get used to it because, at first, it seems like the locals speak very fast, but as you get more familiar with the language and accent, it gets easier to understand it.
It’s also important to know that Madrid is quite touristy, but somehow, it doesn’t feel overwhelming and like all the people around you are tourists. I think there’s a good mix of locals and travelers, and you can always find quieter or less touristy spots. Luckily, the locals are also extremely friendly, and you’ll surely feel welcome and at home in no time.
If you’re looking for a recommendation for a specific language school, Enforex is a wonderful option. It offers all kinds of programs for all levels, tours inside the city as well as day trips, language exchange hours, and even accommodation if you don’t want to search for one for yourself. I personally recommend finding a private room at a local’s home through Airbnb, so you can pay less and have someone local to talk to outside the school. Some of the best neighborhoods to stay in Madrid include Barrio de las Letras and Malasaña.
Since you’ll be surrounded by Spaniards, you’ll get to practice your Spanish all day long, but for something more than that, you can also go to language exchange meet-ups (not necessarily the school’s) or join some walking tours in Spanish to hear the local guide and maybe even meet other travelers.
By Or from My Path in the World
AGUAAAA-CAAATE! Even after living in Colombia for several months, the early morning sing-song call of my local barrio’s Avocado man makes me smile. What is not to love about Medellin? Despite the city’s notorious past, the Medellin of today bears little resemblance to the Narcos TV show. These days, Medellin is an expat and tourist hub. Foreigners come to Medellin to enjoy a low cost of living in an electric city with nearly perfect year-round weather that dubs Colombia’s second-largest metro area as “The city of Eternal Spring.”
Even better, due to the clean and understandable Colombian accent, this cosmopolitan city filled with a vibrant art scene, bustling nightlife, and friendly locals is considered one of the best places to learn Spanish in South America.
Language immersion is one of the best ways to learn any foreign language. In Medellin, you will not have many chances to “cheat.” Only 4% of the country speaks English, and that minuscule number includes the over 60,000 US and UK expats living in Colombia. Whether you are buying groceries at a local Mercado, navigating the public transportation system, or chatting up locals in the basement salsa club, immersion forces you to communicate in Spanish.
There is even a special version of a Student Visa for foreigners looking to take a non-degree Spanish Language program. By attending classes at a government-recognized language school, Colombia has a Visitor Visa (V), allowing expats to live in Colombia legally for up to 6-months, provided they attend at least 10 hours of weekly Spanish language classes. Universidad EAFIT and UPB (Pontifical Bolivarian University) in Laureles are the two most popular schools for expats to study Spanish in Medellin.
By Marco Sison, from Nomadic FIRE
South America is not specifically known as a good destination to learn Spanish because of the many regional slangs and difficult accents found in most countries. However, surprisingly enough, the Bolivian accent is very mild and Bolivians truly speak proper Spanish without any mumbling!
This is why for the past few years, the word is out and backpackers flock to Sucre for a few weeks at the time, from all over the world to learn Spanish. Like them, you can join intensive programs in one of the many Spanish schools offering group classes. Or, you can also book one-to-one sessions in your hostel!
Indeed, most backpacker “hostels” offer Spanish classes for a small price to their guests. It is a really good option as the teacher comes directly to the hostels at an agreed time. The prices are also very attractive as most 1to1 classes cost less than €5 per hour. You can then practice your Spanish with other travelers or with locals.
Other than the many options to learn Spanish, Sucre also attracts for its quality of life and atmosphere. Despite being the 6th biggest town in the country, Sucre city centre feels like a village and is very rich in history. Most tourists end up spending a lot of time here due to its good weather and all the incredible things that can be seen and done in or around Sucre. The food is also delicious, the altitude not too bad (2,800 meters) and there is always something happening in the streets of Sucre. Its well preserved historic centre, declared a UNESCO World Heritage site, makes it also a really good place to stay for a few weeks.
By Jenny from Tales from the Lens
In 2019, I moved to Zaragoza, Spain to be an Auxiliar de Conversación, an assistant English teacher in a local public high school. One of the reasons I chose Zaragoza is because my hope was to learn Spanish, and I’d read that the level of English in that city is low. I wasn’t moving to Spain to fall back on my English! There doesn’t seem to be a lot of tourism in Zaragoza by those from English-speaking countries, therefore, unlike Madrid and Barcelona, and as I quickly discovered, it isn’t common to find people with a strong level of English.
I only spoke a few words of Spanish prior to moving there, and boy, did I get my wish. I was thrown into a place where I couldn’t communicate my basic needs and it forced me very quickly to start to learn the language, even though at first, my progress was a little bit slow. I eventually found language classes to take and took part in social language exchanges, or intercambios, as they are known. I attended every local festival and activity I could find and even signed up for dance classes in order to immerse myself into the local culture.
Zaragoza was the perfect place to start my journey of learning Spanish as Castellano Spanish is spoken there, so it’s a little easier to understand people…when they speak slowly! What also helped me was that the people of Zaragoza were very kind and extremely patient as I fumbled and butchered their language, and usually followed it up with a laugh and “my English is bad too”. There was no better or challenging (in a good way) place to immerse myself in the language and culture and I was surprised at how quickly I progressed.
Zaragoza is an easy going, welcoming city and a wonderful place to visit and live. It is such a great example of authentic Spain and a fantastic place to learn or improve your Spanish.
By Cat from Paths and Postcards
Turkey is famous for its rich history, incredible food and cultural diversity. Learning Turkish is a sure-fire way to really get to know this wonderful country, beyond what regular tourists usually see and experience. Whilst English might be widely spoken in Istanbul, at popular tourist resorts on the coast or at famous historical attractions, learning some Turkish is a must if you wish to explore the rest of the country with ease.
Istanbul is a great place to learn Turkish as there are a large number of language schools and courses to suit every budget. You can choose between short intensive courses which involve around 20 hours of language learning per week for 1-3 weeks or, if you are in the city for a longer time and prefer to learn a language in a more relaxed way, there are longer courses with fewer hours per week. A lot of these courses also include some social activities where you can practice your language skills with your fellow students or at cafes and restaurants.
Whilst English is more common in Istanbul, you can still expect to practice your Turkish everywhere – from ordering tea to buying groceries! People in Istanbul are very friendly and it’s not unusual for random strangers to just start talking to you – they are often curious about where you are from and why you’ve chosen to visit Turkey and most of these questions will be asked in Turkish.
Many Turkish people love it when foreigners try to speak Turkish – even simply saying ‘hello’ or ‘thank you’ gets a positive response, so you should definitely try to put your new Turkish skills into use when you are exploring the city! Using Turkish at markets and bazaars is especially beneficial because knowing a little of the local lingo helps with getting discounts too!
There are also plenty of language exchange groups in the city: for example, Istanbul & I, a youth-run organisation, holds a weekly Turkish speaking club (in-person and online) for all levels of Turkish speakers.
By Sasha from Mog and Dog Travels
Have you learned a language abroad? Tell us where and if you would recommend it in the comments below.