You go to class every day, do your homework and you’re living in another country, yet talking with your downstairs neighbor is still next to impossible.
Why is that?
It’s because becoming fluent requires more than just reading your textbook — it requires total immersion. And though studying abroad greatly helps language learning, fluency can’t be obtained by osmosis. You need to really take advantage of your surroundings while you’re abroad.
Follow our tips to help yourself master a foreign language while you’re abroad!
1. Find a great online dictionary – not translator
Whenever you come across a word you don’t know, use a foreign dictionary to look it up. It’s more challenging, but learning what a word means by reading its definition will help you remember it, and reinforces the immersion. You want to be thinking in your new language.
Looking it up with an online translator, on the other hand, means you’ll probably just forget it in 10 minutes.
2. Write down new words you’ve learned and review them
When you do encounter a new word, write it down. Either keep a notebook or use a notes app in your phone to write down new vocabulary so you can review it later. Repeating new vocabulary is key to knowing it forever.
3. Read something other than your textbook
Going to class is great, and obviously necessary to learning a new language (not to mention maintaining your GPA).
However, you’ll never sound like a local if you only stick to textbooks. You’ve probably noticed that the English translations in your textbook seem a little stiff, and chances are that the foreign language is equally formal. You’ll pick up more slang and common phrasing by reading newspapers, blogs and even novels in your new language.
If you’re nervous about reading a whole novel, find a book store and see if they have a translation of your favorite book. It will be less intimidating because you already know the plot of the story.
4. Listen to local music
While your favorite music may be comforting if you’re feeling homesick, it’s not helping you to learn your host country’s language. Find out which bands are popular in your host country and listen to them online.
Or while you’re reading that newspaper, see if there are any local concerts in your area. It’ll be a fun way to learn a bit more about your host city’s culture and practice your language skills!
5. Start conversations with everyone
It can be difficult to make friends with the locals, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try. Ask your grocer about his day, say hi to the woman you always pass on the way to class, and start up a conversation with a local when you’re at the bar. It will be excellent language practice, and you may even meet some amazing people.
Also, if you’re living with a host family, take advantage! They presumably decided to host you because they wanted to share their culture, so don’t just sit in your room all day. Tell your host family about your day and ask where the best places to go are – they’ll be happy to share neighborhood secrets with you.
6. Change your cell phone and social media to your new language
We know it’s virtually impossible to cut ties with social media, and it does have its benefits. Facebook and maybe even your study abroad blog are great ways to record your trip and stay in touch with your friends and family back home.
So, a compromise will be to set your default languages to your host country’s language…then you can at least pretend you’re practicing.
Do you have any more tips for students who are learning another language while abroad? Share in the comments below!