Language learning abroad can be an exciting, yet challenging experience. This is a chance to fully immerse yourself in the culture and practice your language skills with every exchange! Country-based experience affords students the opportunity to achieve incredible gains in their target language. Not sure how to make the most of this incredible experience? Here are some insider tips to increase your language gains abroad and capitalize on your time in-country.
Compete with yourself. As a student of a new language it can be easy to compare your knowledge, experience, and learning pace to other students. Fight the urge! You are your only competition in your goal to language proficiency. Use your classmates to fuel your learning and practice your skills, but remember that others may have had more extensive previous study. Practice speaking with people above and below your language level to cement your knowledge and learn new things. Your starting proficiency does not put you ahead or behind others, it simply gives you a base to grow from! The largest and quickest language gains usually take place between the novice and intermediate levels. If you are starting your language program at a higher level, you may notice others gaining skills more quickly than you. Don’t let this deter you! Stay the course, and you will reach your goal.
Commit to complete. Write a letter to yourself about why you are pursuing this language and how it will benefit your future personally, professionally, and academically. Pledge to yourself that you are committed to learning and that you will speak only in your target language for the duration of the program, whether it be one week or one year. If you are a beginner, this is especially helpful. If you do not know a word or phrase, ask how to say it in the language you are studying. In the beginning it will be taxing, but your commitment will help you to start speaking from the beginning, and learn quicker in order to communicate with those around you. Sign this letter, and use it as inspiration during your journey!
Set realistic goals. It is important to acknowledge the level of your skills when beginning a program. Before going abroad,establish expectations for yourself. If you are at a novice level in your target language, it can be unrealistic to assume that you will be fluent after several weeks. If fluency is your goal, try brainstorming concrete steps that follow a timeline that is on par with your learning pace. Reaching your ultimate goal is important, but it doesn’t happen overnight.
Fully immerse yourself in the culture and traditions of your host community. Language and culture overlap deeply because traditions, people, and cultural views influence the spoken word. When studying a language, you may realize how certain definitions are derived from cultural philosophies and practices. Understanding the culture of your host country will allow you to approach language acquisition with a new, open perspective. Try to look at the country and language through native eyes. It may help you discover a new and exciting path to attaining your competency goals!
Focus on engaging with your host community and establishing relationships. New country, new language, why not make new friends? Connecting with your classmates, cohort, and other English-speakers abroad is important, but try not to become dependent on surrounding yourself with what is comfortable. You’re here to grow, learn, and take risks!
Engaging with your host community is a great way to further your language skills. Try exploring your neighborhood and meeting new people in your community, like business owners, students, and neighbors. Not only will you make new connections with people in your area, but you will initiate conversation in your target language. Studying is a must, but engaging in conversations can help you practice, while giving you a break from the books. The relationships you make by connecting with new people may seem simple, but these special moments can offer lifetime friendships and great memories.
Bond with your host family. If you have a host family, you have been given 24/7 access to conversation partners, the opportunity to make a strong connection, and an insider’s view into the culture. Studying, classes, and exploring a new country can be time consuming, but be sure to set aside time during the day to talk with your host family and learn more about them. You will not only strengthen your language skills, but you will learn more about the people you are sharing a home with.
Focus on maximizing every opportunity. Country-based language study offers limitless possibilities to engage in your target language everyday. Use them! Strike up conversations with people you meet at the store, in the elevator, at the gym, or out to eat! Chances are, they’ll be excited to speak with someone who is new to the culture and language. Learning inside of the classroom is an important part of developing your skills, but learning outside of the classroom offers real life experience that puts your skills to practical use. The beauty of studying abroad is being able to communicate in your hosts’ language on a daily basis and discover the nuances. Don’t pass up an opportunity!
Come up with tangible ways to realize your goals. Write a list of things that you are committed to do in order to make language gains. Ideas can range from using 10 new words a day, to giving yourself a specific number conversations you will start with members of your host community, to delivering a speech at the end of your program. Be sure to include a time-frame and mark down if your goal is daily, weekly, monthly, or something to be accomplished by the program’s end. Working towards a specific goals will help motivate you when you become tired.
Keeping a notebook with you to write down words and phrases you hear throughout day is another great tool. Later in the day you can review the words you wrote, look them up, write the definitions next to the words, and essentially create your own reference book!
Don’t give up! Language acquisition is a demanding skill that not only takes effort, but will-power. At times, it can be exhausting to remain focused and mentally aware of conversations and cultural cues, especially when you are unable to understand basic phrases. When you have difficulty, take pride in your improvements and strive for more. Decide beforehand that fluency, speaking skills, or knowledge in a certain dialect is what you want! When you get frustrated think back to the conclusion you came to. You want this!
Establish a specific plan to continue learning upon your return. When returning home, your language acquisition can begin to slow down. Before leaving your study abroad country, come up with a plan of action to combat this! Try forming a support network with other language learning peers and utilize resources for study abroad alumni.
Now that you have the inside scoop, you can begin planning your path to language fluency (or whatever your goal may be). Share these inside tips with friends and classmates to help them prepare for their language learning experience abroad. Accomplishing your goals are well within your reach. Enjoy the journey!