Join almost 1 million
monthly
readers!

Contact Me

Coaching and Consultation

Language Hacking League!

Join over 50,000 people to get FREE weekly language hacking tips, cool links, site updates & two free chapters of the Language Hacking Guide!

No Spam. Not ever.

Current Mission:


Coach a monoglot in her first ever successful language learning mission! Learn more!

Previous post:

Next post:

Finding the right accommodation for immersion in a culture

| 29 comments | Category: travel

rio_flatHello from Rio de Janeiro!! Since I’m still just settling in (and getting over jetlag), tonight will be the first time that I go out on the town! Obviously the main part of this mission is to get out and meet Cariocas who can help me understand their language and culture a little bit more, but I’ll still be spending most of the week, during these 3 months, working at home (I may travel a lot, but I’m not rich, so I have to work too!) and going to shops and eating out etc. in my neighbourhood. I’m very glad about which part of the city I’m living in and this will be a key part of how my 3 months will develop.

Choosing the right home can make all the difference

Choosing the right place to live in isn’t just important to be close to work, having all mod-cons that you may need, and paying rent that’s within your budget. These are all extremely important, and will always be the priority. However, if you can be flexible on your choice to help your language mission, it can really make things easier for you on that front.

For young ladies, the most popular means of full-immersion is to become an au-pair. I can’t speak from personal experience, but I highly recommend it, as you would be living with a family who may not speak English. You would see the culture from the inside and be exposed to the language more than you could hope. It is also one of the most price-friendly options. There are plenty of resources online with some good tips for the asipiring au pair.

Otherwise, we have to look for an apartment and find a local (or location-independent) job. What I see too often is that other travellers tend to rely a lot on agencies and tourist channels. This tends to be much more expensive (due to commission and the general expectation that foreigners can and will pay more) and may lead to a less authentic experience, depending on where you live, especially if there are just other foreigners around.

I had to face this problem when I was trying to find a flat in Rio. Even those who know nothing about Rio will have heard the words Copacabana and Ipanema due to popular songs about people in those city districts. These two parts of Rio are actually where most foreigners end up, and are by far the most touristy and expensive parts of the city. I have nothing against tourists or tourism since we’re all actually tourists in our own way and it’s an important industry in many places, and despite my language and cultural immersion, I depend on tourist channels for many things when I travel. But I prefer to avoid it when it comes to accommodation if I can. Finding temporary accommodation in Copacabana or Ipanema may have been much easier, but I am sure that I would hear a lot of English there and be surrounded by too many other foreigners to be able to feel immersed. If you live in these zones, feel free to correct me if they are just as Carioca as the rest of the city; I also didn’t need to live there because being very close to the beach is not a priority for me (although I can actually still walk to the beach from where I am now).

The other problem is that you may end up living with other foreigners; this can actually be very helpful at times, especially if they are also enthusiastic to learn the language. However, if they are English speakers or like speaking English with you, then this huge amount of time each day not practising the local language can greatly slow down your progress. If at all possible, the priority should always be to live with locals. I’ve enjoyed the company of over 80 flatmates in the last 10 years (not counting Couchsurfers), but since I work from home and need to make sure that there are less distractions, and since I can afford it nowadays, I usually rent an entire flat to myself. This is much more of an affordable option in cheaper countries, but not necessary the best option for most people.

Pressure to adapt

My flat in Rio is actually located in Urca, a charming and very safe neighbourhood that is ideally located right beside Botafogo and just north of Copacabana. The best part is that it has a small-town feel to it despite being so central, and in walking around for hours and going shopping etc. for this entire week, I have yet to see other gringos since I got off the bus from the airport! (Or perhaps I have come across many, who have been successful in what I’m attempting in these 3 months!) This is the ideal situation, since being surrounded by other foreigners may lead to speaking in English, which I avoid in these missions and is thus the “secret” to how I learn languages. It also means that here in Urca I am extremely aware of how gringo I look (I still need to have a “makeover”, more on that later!). There is more pressure for me to adapt, which I wouldn’t feel as much in a touristy area. So, how did I find this place?

Finding a flat

How you should go about finding a flat varies hugely depending on the country, city, time of year, your requirements and your budget. Summarising the best way of finding all of that and covering the whole world would be too difficult. But what you should do, is write to other travellers to get their advice based on your requirements. This request for help in itself is very easy and the best way to start. If you have a friend or two in the city that’s great, but they may not know how to look for the kind of accommodation you want. I know plenty of people in Rio already, but their advice wasn’t so useful because they are only used to looking for long term accommodation, or could only offer me links to touristy accommodation agencies.

So one solution to be prepared before arrival is online forums. My two favourite ones for finding out the best means of finding accommodation or any general information for particular cities are the Couchsurfing groups and the Lonely Planet Thorntree forum (in each case, going specifically to the page for the city/country you are going to). Usually you don’t even need to ask the question since someone else already has, and the information is there waiting for you!

Asking those who have already done all the work before me means that I have gone straight to the best source, whether that is simply knowing which beach to go to for haggling a price for an entire beach hut in India with an excellent view down to €5 a night, or knowing which online ads website to check daily to see new ads sent by the owner of the flat, like loquo in Spain, expats in Prague or craigslist in Rio. It’s completely possible to get an excellent deal through ads just in English, but you have more options if you can read in the local language, or at least use Google Translate to help you. Starting with online forums is one option, but there are lots of other means of finding accommodation abroad.

Just make sure you use some common sense when it comes to paying deposits before leaving, and that you try to haggle prices down whenever possible. Other travellers can give you advice that is specific to the city you plan to move to, but always take your time and research plenty of different options before settling too quickly on something.

What to do you think? Is accommodation really that important in language immersion, or is it just a roof over your head that makes no real difference? Do share your thoughts in the comments! :)

***********************

Enter your email in the top right of the site to subscribe to the Language Hacking League e-mail list for way more tips sent directly to your inbox!

If you enjoyed this post, you will love my TEDx talk! You can get much better details of how I recommend learning a language if you watch it here.

This article was written by

Comments: If you liked this post or have anything to say, please leave a comment! I love reading them :)
Just keep in mind that I’ll delete any rude, trolling, spammy, irrelevant or way off-topic comments. Also, use your REAL name, not a brand or business one, and don’t link to your site in the comments unless it’s relevant to this post.
If you have a general language learning question, please ask it in the forums. Otherwise please use the search tool on the right for any other question not related to this post.

———————————–

  • maria

    Why don’t you arrange your next trip to be in Greece? You’ll have much fun here (i suppose) and i can help you out with everything needed to do that. If you ask me why I would go in such a trouble for a stranger, well…the answers are many. Greeks are very hospitable people, I admire what you’re doing, I like Irish people, I would very much like to be in your shoes but never had the courage to do it, I like meeting new people, I’ve spent 2 and a half years in England without knowing anybody there, I sympathize with you (in the sense of Brazilian “sympatico” and Greek “συμπαθω” ) and thousands reasons more. I’ve put my e-mail in the space provided. If you can’t find it just let my know on your answer.

    Greetings from Greece,

    Maria

  • maria

    Why don’t you arrange your next trip to be in Greece? You’ll have much fun here (i suppose) and i can help you out with everything needed to do that. If you ask me why I would go in such a trouble for a stranger, well…the answers are many. Greeks are very hospitable people, I admire what you’re doing, I like Irish people, I would very much like to be in your shoes but never had the courage to do it, I like meeting new people, I’ve spent 2 and a half years in England without knowing anybody there, I sympathize with you (in the sense of Brazilian “sympatico” and Greek “συμπαθω” ) and thousands reasons more. I’ve put my e-mail in the space provided. If you can’t find it just let my know on your answer.

    Greetings from Greece,

    Maria

  • http://www.lingvoj.net/ lingvoj

    Thanks for the tips, the view looks amazing

  • http://www.lingvoj.net lingvoj

    Thanks for the tips, the view looks amazing

  • http://www.fluentin3months.com/ benny

    Thanks Maria! I’ve got your email yes :)
    I’ll be in Brazil until Christmas, and from January I still don’t know where I’ll be yet. I would indeed like to learn Greek! But I may not get around to it for another year or two. You’ll be one of the first to know if I decide to go there ;)

  • http://www.fluentin3months.com benny

    Thanks Maria! I’ve got your email yes :)
    I’ll be in Brazil until Christmas, and from January I still don’t know where I’ll be yet. I would indeed like to learn Greek! But I may not get around to it for another year or two. You’ll be one of the first to know if I decide to go there ;)

  • Rodrigo

    Smart choice, Benny! I grew up in Urca and I think it is the best neighborhood in Rio by far (safe & warm). Lots of retirees there. How did you come about Urca anyway?

    Consigo ver o Morro da Urca e o edificio Praia Vermelha no background da foto, então imagino que você está morando bem perto Botafogo, certo? (BTW, linda vista da Baía de Guanabara & Iate Clube)

  • Rodrigo

    Smart choice, Benny! I grew up in Urca and I think it is the best neighborhood in Rio by far (safe & warm). Lots of retirees there. How did you come about Urca anyway?

    Consigo ver o Morro da Urca e o edificio Praia Vermelha no background da foto, então imagino que você está morando bem perto Botafogo, certo? (BTW, linda vista da Baía de Guanabara & Iate Clube)

  • http://ichestudiolangues.wordpress.com/ Jessica Thomson

    I just added you to my blogroll on my new blog http://ichestudiolangues.wordpress.com

    I really love this blog, whenever my language blog RSS feed shows a new post, I always hope it’s this one! Keep us posted on your adventures in Rio.
    .-= Jessica Thomson´s last blog ..Happy European Day of Languages! =-.

  • http://ichestudiolangues.wordpress.com Jessica Thomson

    I just added you to my blogroll on my new blog http://ichestudiolangues.wordpress.com

    I really love this blog, whenever my language blog RSS feed shows a new post, I always hope it’s this one! Keep us posted on your adventures in Rio.
    .-= Jessica Thomson´s last blog ..Happy European Day of Languages! =-.

  • http://otevotnyelv.blog.hu/ balint

    Amazing view! What an inspiration ;)
    .-= balint´s last blog ..Kreatív Spanyol =-.

  • http://otevotnyelv.blog.hu balint

    Amazing view! What an inspiration ;)
    .-= balint´s last blog ..Kreatív Spanyol =-.

  • M.Verhulsdonck-Roest

    Just a tiny bit jealous, sitting in a grey and windy Dutch polder, working on a draconian translation! (I would never go Dutch if I were you ;-)) Good luck on your endeavour!
    Regards,
    Marjolein

  • M.Verhulsdonck-Roest

    Just a tiny bit jealous, sitting in a grey and windy Dutch polder, working on a draconian translation! (I would never go Dutch if I were you ;-)) Good luck on your endeavour!
    Regards,
    Marjolein

  • Linda

    I’m so jello!!!! I have always wanted to go to Rio, maybe someday. Why dont you try Hindi next, India is perfect from January til April. I’m sure you will get much further in Hindi then I have in 2 years!!!! If you ever make it to Delhi, you have a place to crash with my family.

    Linda

  • Linda

    I’m so jello!!!! I have always wanted to go to Rio, maybe someday. Why dont you try Hindi next, India is perfect from January til April. I’m sure you will get much further in Hindi then I have in 2 years!!!! If you ever make it to Delhi, you have a place to crash with my family.

    Linda

  • http://www.fluentin3months.com/ benny

    Thanks for all of these comments everyone :)
    @Linda
    I spent over 2 months in India this year!! :) I was living in a hut in Palolem, Goa. Sadly I didn’t get to travel much (or learn any Hindi) as I had to work, but I’ll be back don’t worry ;)
    @M.Verhulsdonck-Roest
    If it makes you feel any better, despite being in Rio, I’m NOT actually going to be spending all day working on my tan on Ipanema beach and dancing samba. I’ve been working full time (including over the weekend) since I got here, translating some pretty dull documents too ;) Then again when I finish work I can do all that fun stuff :D But I’m not on a holiday ;)
    @Jessica
    Thanks for adding my blog. Best of luck with your new site!
    @Rodrigo
    Just looked a lot and was focussing on anywhere but Ipanema and Copacabana, which is quite hard, since that is where nearly all of the temporary modern and furnished accommodation is; I need a place to be furnished so this almost made leaving the touristy zones impossible. But persistence is the key ;)
    Moro na Rua Lauro Müller onde está o shopping Rio Sul :)

  • http://www.fluentin3months.com benny

    Thanks for all of these comments everyone :)
    @Linda
    I spent over 2 months in India this year!! :) I was living in a hut in Palolem, Goa. Sadly I didn’t get to travel much (or learn any Hindi) as I had to work, but I’ll be back don’t worry ;)
    @M.Verhulsdonck-Roest
    If it makes you feel any better, despite being in Rio, I’m NOT actually going to be spending all day working on my tan on Ipanema beach and dancing samba. I’ve been working full time (including over the weekend) since I got here, translating some pretty dull documents too ;) Then again when I finish work I can do all that fun stuff :D But I’m not on a holiday ;)
    @Jessica
    Thanks for adding my blog. Best of luck with your new site!
    @Rodrigo
    Just looked a lot and was focussing on anywhere but Ipanema and Copacabana, which is quite hard, since that is where nearly all of the temporary modern and furnished accommodation is; I need a place to be furnished so this almost made leaving the touristy zones impossible. But persistence is the key ;)
    Moro na Rua Lauro Müller onde está o shopping Rio Sul :)

  • paul

    Hello Benny,

    I enjoy reading your blog and was in Rio in 2000 for two weeks.
    Is it possible to share with us how you found your apartment and the monthly cost ? I’ve never see any short term lets for apartments in Urca.

    Here are some links to photos of Urca for your readers, not google street view but near enough.

    http://www.skyscrapercity.com/showthread.php?t=468384

    http://www.skyscrapercity.com/showthread.php?t=590154

    http://www.skyscrapercity.com/showthread.php?t=467843

    Benny did you ever consider staying in Niterói, no foreigner there, 100% brazilian middle class area. What do you think of Niterói?

    Some links to photos of Niterói.

    http://www.skyscrapercity.com/showthread.php?t=473623

    http://www.skyscrapercity.com/showthread.php?t=880538

    http://www.skyscrapercity.com/showthread.php?t=729424

    http://www.skyscrapercity.com/showthread.php?t=439867

    Thanks

  • paul

    Hello Benny,

    I enjoy reading your blog and was in Rio in 2000 for two weeks.
    Is it possible to share with us how you found your apartment and the monthly cost ? I’ve never see any short term lets for apartments in Urca.

    Here are some links to photos of Urca for your readers, not google street view but near enough.

    http://www.skyscrapercity.com/showthread.php?t=468384

    http://www.skyscrapercity.com/showthread.php?t=590154

    http://www.skyscrapercity.com/showthread.php?t=467843

    Benny did you ever consider staying in Niterói, no foreigner there, 100% brazilian middle class area. What do you think of Niterói?

    Some links to photos of Niterói.

    http://www.skyscrapercity.com/showthread.php?t=473623

    http://www.skyscrapercity.com/showthread.php?t=880538

    http://www.skyscrapercity.com/showthread.php?t=729424

    http://www.skyscrapercity.com/showthread.php?t=439867

    Thanks

  • http://www.rooshv.com/ Roosh

    Great blog I’ve been reading through it and agree with your strategies. I’m going to rio around november/december. Will hit you up.
    .-= Roosh´s last blog ..The Truth About Medellin =-.

  • http://www.rooshv.com Roosh

    Great blog I’ve been reading through it and agree with your strategies. I’m going to rio around november/december. Will hit you up.
    .-= Roosh´s last blog ..The Truth About Medellin =-.

  • http://www.beachlets.com/ Beach Accommodation

    Great info! Thanks for sharing and I will visit this blog quite often.

  • http://www.sinohotel.com/english/hotels/beijing/index.html Beijing Hotels

    Interesting post. I have made a twitter post about this. Others no doubt will like it like I did.

  • gy

    Legal o seu site.Te vi no forum eu falo portugues do couch surfing. Eu que tento aprender ingles a… 150anos, gostaria muito de aplicar seu método! parabéns!

    Realmente você é um gringo esperto hahahhaha. O Rio de Janeiro é “tudo de bom” como dizem os brasileiros e a Urca é um bairro delicioso e cheio de historia.
    Voce deve ter ouvido falar na nossa Carmem Miranda. Ela foi uma imensa estrela mundial, morou na Urca e alias, morou em Los Angeles, NY, aprendeu ingles rapidinho (apesar de hollywood exigir que ela falasse errado pra cultivar a fama de latina burra…)
    um abraço e boas viagens.

  • http://www.riolocalapartments.com/ rent apartment rio

    Really this is very meninigful blog.Keep us posted on your adventures in Rio.

  • guest

    the article is very nice. pelican suites are much more luxurious than any
    normal suites.it provides all facilities and privacy like your home for more
     details visit  http://www.pelicancanada.com/

  • http://www.fluentin3months.com/ Benny Lewis

    Arrive, walk up the beach, haggle a LOT and that’s it :) Anything you book in advance will be overpriced. In-person interactions are the best “resource” by far for accommodation in India.

  • http://www.seawallapartments.com.au/ Accommodation Adelaide

    Some of us may enjoy moving a different house and in different places. And to look for a place to stay might not very hard for there are a lot of accommodations in the city today but the big question is, Are you comfortable living in that kind of place?Does it has all your needs and desires? Do you like its environment?