One of the best aspects of studying abroad is getting to learn a new language.
Whether you are studying abroad for a summer, semester, or year, the immersion will do wonders for your proficiency. Though you may not become fluent, you can be sure that your improvement will be drastic. If you’re looking for ways to maximize your progress as you learn a new language, here are three tips to get you started!
1. Practice Every Chance You Get
It’s not every day that you get to practice your German, Russian, or Spanish! Take advantage of the fact that the location you are spending time in speaks the language you want to practice. This means that you can use your target language much more often than you would while in the United States.
When you go to restaurants (and you will go to many), try ordering in the local language! Not only will the locals appreciate your effort, but by the end of the trip, you’ll be ordering food like a pro. An important phrase to learn in your host language is “how do you say…?” If you don’t know how to say something, just ask and repeat it so you can learn for the next time.
In addition to ordering food, you can also practice in your language classes, use digital applications while you’re on the go, and listen to music in the local language. Watching TV can also be great practice. For example, if you’re trying to learn German, watch a show you like in English and use German subtitles to pick up on vocabulary. Alternatively, watch a show in German with English subtitles to work on your aural comprehension. The key here is to keep an eye out for all of these opportunities, so you can practice your spoken, written, and listening comprehension as often as possible!
2. Let Go of Perfectionism
I speak from experience: being afraid of making mistakes is your number one obstacle! Once you let go of that fear, you open yourself to improvement and development. It may take some time, but after a while you’ll learn to “loosen your tongue.” If you make a mistake (and rest assured that you will), just learn from it and keep it in mind for future reference. Try to avoid feeling self-conscious or embarrassed and remember: it’s OKAY to make mistakes! In fact, making mistakes is part of the learning process. It can be uncomfortable, but that’s what studying abroad is all about—getting out of your comfort zone! Don’t let the fear of making mistakes deter you from trying.
On that note, be patient! You shouldn’t expect to become fluent in a foreign language within a couple of weeks. It will take time, but just remember that you are making progress. As the saying goes, do not make perfectionism the enemy of the good. Effort and a positive attitude will make all the difference.
3. Meet locals
One of my favorite experiences of studying in Berlin has been the Tandem Partner Program, in which American students get matched with local German students. It’s very flexible and each pair decides on their own goals. My partner and I, for example, like to explore the city and alternate between German and English. We’ve been to the movies, visited museums, and walked around food markets. See if your study abroad program has this opportunity and consider applying.
If they don’t, you can always befriend locals. Maybe your school or city has a sports program. This can be a really fun way to meet locals with a shared interest! Having a local friend is a fun way to casually practice your language without the pressure of a classroom setting. You also pick up on tons of different vocabulary when jumping around different topics that interest the both of you. Also, take the opportunity to learn about their culture. Maybe talk about differences between your home and host country. What is similar? What is starkly different? Hanging out with locals gives you a more authentic experience, lets you learn about the local culture, and practice your target language, so there is definitely a lot to gain there!