How to learn a new language without losing your mind

languages and continents(photo by dreamstime)

If you are working abroad as an au pair, there is a good chance that one of the reasons you are is to learn a new language. Right? Or you may be there to perfect a language that you already have started to learn. OR – you’re an au pair simply for the fun of it, and learning a language is part of the deal.

Whatever the case, learning a foreign language can be challenging. And interesting. And overwhelming some days too. Some learn languages more quickly than others, but even those who learn foreign languages easily still have their days.

So how can you learn to speak your new language like a native? Because let’s face it, even if you are taking a language class (which you should be, it’s one of the benefits of being an au pair) you are still going to have to work hard outside of class if you want to learn to speak the language fluently.

Here are a few things that help speed up the language-learning process:

Stop speaking your own language with your host family – if your host parents speak your language well, it’s tempting to stick with the comfort of your mother tongue when speaking with them. Give yourself a set amount of time to learn the basics of the new language and get comfortable with it, and then stop speaking your own language with your host parents so that you are forced to speak the new language. It’s a bit scary at first, but it will make a difference.

Meet locals and speak their language – Getting out and meeting people is important – not only socially, because you want new friends – but also to speak the language. And just like with your host parents, even if your new friends and acquaintances speak your language, do your best to converse – at least as much as you can – in the local language. As they say, practice makes perfect, and with languages, it tends to be true (as long as your friends are willing to correct your errors!).

Watch local tv shows and movies – Even if you don’t understand everything that is being said, watching TV and movies in your new language is a fabulous way to learn the language, especially because you will learn the language the way it is actually spoken – not school-book language. To baby-step it, you can even rent movies that you have already seen in your own language and change the settings to watch it in the local language. You’ll know what is going on AND benefit from learning new words and expressions. Give it a try!

What do you do to learn a new language? What other ways are there to become fluent in the language of your new home?


Ways to travel cheap as an Au Pair

Bode Museum Berlin (photo property of BestAuPairGuide)

It’s no secret that most au pairs pack their bags and move to another country to live and work with strangers for one reason: travel. Right? As we have discussed before, there are several reasons to be an au pair. And traveling cheaply is the main reason au pairs put up with all that comes along with the au pair job.

For starters, au pairs are already living in a foreign country and their room and board are free. That’s a major expense taken care of right off the bat, especially in expensive cities where the cost of living is high (think New York and Paris). Au pairing makes it possible to see and experience the pricier places to live without the hefty price tag that comes along with it.

But even though expenses are covered, it’s no secret that au pairs don’t exactly make a lot of money. So how do you travel cheaply when working as an au pair? Here are a few ways:

  • Travel with friends – sharing travel expenses with others is a major way to cut costs. In many European countries, for example, you can purchase a group train tickts or even weekend tickets to various places, making transportation super cheap. In the United States, where public transportation isn’t as readily available or affordable, you can join up with a few friends and rent a car for a fun – and cheap – road trip. Sharing hotel and food costs with friends also means a much less pricey vacation
  • Consider camping – if your budget is low, camping is an affordable way to see new places. Even if you aren’t a huge fan of the outdoor lifestyle, the money you save by camping might mean you get to visit places that you wouldn’t otherwise be able to afford. Camping made it possible for me and a couple other au pair friends to enjoy several days in Italy, and we had a blast “roughing it” in one of the world’s most gorgeous countries
  • Look into last minute travel deals and deal sites – to get the most bang out of your travel buck, you either need to book way in advance or last minute, and as an au pair with limited cash, travel is overn a spontaneous decision when you have a free weekend. Visit last minute travel websites and be sure to subscribe to services such as Groupon, which often have great deals on holiday packages, hotels, and flights (just be sure to read the fine print).
  • Travel with your host family – if your host family is going somewhere interesting on vacaction and they invite you, consider joining them even if you technically do not have to go. Although you may get suckered into doing a little more babysitting (and then again, you may not!), a free trip would likely be worth it.

What about you? Any ideas for cheap travel when working as an au pair and living on a limited budget? Share your thoughts and tips below!

Be careful, because you just might fall in love

love photo(photo courtesy of dreamstime stock photos)

When you take the chance and move abroad to work as an au pair, there is a pretty good chance that you will fall in love. And I don’t just mean with the adorably cute foreign guys and girls you will meet, although there will likely be plenty of them, with all the drama a foreign romance entails (more on that another day … ).

But a recent article about an au pair working in Rome reminded me how the loves you gain while living abroad can be many and life-long. The story was a short one about a New Zealand student wanting to travel abroad before beginning her university studies and moving to Rome to work as an au pair for one month.

She ended up falling in love with a new country and family. And although her experience is recent, I would be willing to bet that ten years out she will be just as fond of her experience as an au pair. Although no host family or host country is perfect, there is a good chance that your new home and family will become very dear to you. So consider yourselves warned!

Au Pair in China – part 2 – One au pair’s story

Chinese countryside(photo courtesy of dreamstime)

In our last post, we talked a little bit about the growing popularity of China as an au pair destination. One of our readers, G. M., who is working as an au pair in China, has been gracious enough to share her experience with us. Here is some of what she has written about her time in China so far …

“I’ve been here for 3 weeks now. The agency told me that the first week was the ‘honeymoon’ phase, and then it gets hard. That didn’t happen to me … I hated the first week … “

She goes on to say that the first week she was very depressed and homesick. She was having some trouble getting used to such a different culture, and was even working more hours than she should. She was more or less wondering what she had done and if going to China had been the right decision. But she did go on to say…

“After the first week things started to get better and are continuing to get better.”

After getting over the initial sadness of leaving home and culture shock of living in such a new and different place, G. started to really appreciate China. Except for maybe the bad weather … About the country, she says,

“China is amazing in every sense. The size of Beijing, the number of people, the weather is bad, and the people somewhat difficult.”

She also says that people who can’t adjust quickly should not go to China, which is probably very true. For many westerners, Asia can be a BIG change, so you need to be sure that you can handle such a drastically different place and culture.

Like most au pairs, there has been the occassional issue with her host family, but for the most part, the au pair job in China is working out. An email sent several weeks into the job reveals that things are working out great. The agency she is working with is great and encourages other au pairs in the area to get to know each other. She has also made friends outside of her family and au pair circle, and she her work situation has balanced out nicely. She works 30 hours a week, taking care of the family’s son, whom she is getting along with very well. Of course, things haven’t been 100% easy, but G.M. is happy she made the decision to work in China as an au pair.

So, the final verdict on working as an au pair in China? Totally worth it, but not for the faint of heart!

Are there any other au pairs working in China? Or interested in going? If so, please speak up – we’d love to hear from you!

Why you should consider Au Pairing

Chinese Tea House Potsdam

As 2011 begins to wind down, it’s time to start thinking ahead towards next year. Do your plans for 2012 include being an au pair overseas? If you are considering a gap year abroad, working as an au pair might make sense for you.

Why? For starters, working as an au pair is a very affordable way to see and experience a new place very inexpensively. The only major cost would be that of the plane ticket to your new country of residence. If you’re lucky, that expense may even be covered in part by your host family. You get room and board as well as a monthly stipend. The monthly salary you get won’t make you rich but is enough to be able to enjoy life.

Another good reason for working as an au pair next year is because in the shaky world economy we are in right now, finding a “real” job isn’t as easy as it has been in the past. Unemployment is still very high in some countries, and jobs are continually being outsourced or cut out altogether. So instead of being at home without a job, why not get some overseas experience and learn a new language?

Another – and maybe the best reason – to consider being an au pair in 2012 is because it is worth it. Yes, working living in a new place and working with kids can be challenging at times, but the au pair job can also be incredibly rewarding. You gain a new family, a new language, invaluable life experience, and more as an au pair. So why not go for it?