How Students Can Boost Their Language Studies
- Study Abroad
This may well seem like a daunting endeavor -- and to be sure, learning a language is far from easy. But it need not be a daunting task...in fact, it can be great fun. There's much more to learning a new language than sitting in a classroom and practicing your tenses. And while books, videos, and role-plays will help you with the fundamentals, learning a language does not have to be a dry, stale academic endeavor. So here are a few ways you can integrate language learning into your everyday life and studies -- most of them a lot more fun than being stuck in a classroom or library!
Watch some TV
Kicking back and binging on a boxset might not sound like the best way to improve your language skills, but you can pick up quite a lot from watching foreign TV - just make sure you switch on the subtitles. Services such as Netflix are packed with tonnes of exciting shows from all over the world. You can watch them in the original language with subtitles and then see how your skills develop through the series. In time, you can see how much you can understand without the subtitles.
Watching foreign language programs is an excellent way to learn about slang, local accents, and those little quirks that you won't cover in the classroom, but can throw you off when you start practicing in the real world. For example, ‘to pull a blinder’ and ‘bog-standard’ are fairly common English phrases. A foreign language student may know what each word means, but they might also have no idea that the first saying is high praise, while the second is a unique way of saying something is average. Phrases like this do not come into the classroom very often, but it's the kind of stuff you will hear all the time on British shows.
If you're wondering what to watch, begin with something light. Sitcoms like Friends are a great place to start. Episodes are short, which helps you stay focused, and there's usually only a few main characters, giving you the chance to get used to their voices or accents.
There's an app for pretty much everything nowadays, including learning a new language. Apps are a great way to pick up the basics, while premium subscription packages will get you up to an intermediate level (at least in theory) within a few months. Plus, apps let you learn on the go, an ideal option for people who haven't got the time or flexibility to enroll in a weekly class.
There are plenty of language apps to choose from. If you're looking for a more structured way to learn, try Babbel. It has a sleek, minimalist design, with lessons structured in the same way as an online school curriculum. Lessons guide you through everything you will need to know, including translation, pronunciation, and spelling. Like the majority of apps, you can download it for free and receive limited access, but you'll need to pay a monthly subscription to unlock all the features.
For more fun, interactive learning experiences, download Duolingo. Lessons are more like games, and it's got loads of great features to keep you motivated. The streak feature keeps track of how many days you've trained, giving your small rewards when you hit the next milestone. You can also use it to learn more than one language at a time. This is great when it comes to languages that share lots of similar words, like German or English, although you might start getting a bit confused if you try and learn Hungarian and Arabic at the same time! Like Babbel, you can use it for free or with a subscription for more features.
Other popular apps include Memrise, Busuu, Mondly, and Drops. Play around with the free features, then you can subscribe if and when you've found the app that matches your learning style.
University language societies
For international students -- and domestic students looking to learn another language -- university language societies are ideal places to help you get to grips with the native tongue. Nothing beats practicing with fellow students and native speakers. You can practice with people on the same level as you and then push yourself with advanced speakers as soon as you begin to feel comfortable. Plus, practicing in a safe, controlled environment means you are free to make mistakes without feeling embarrassed or causing too much confusion. Language societies are also an excellent place to meet new people and learn more about your host country's culture.
Many universities also run additional language classes as part of the international student experience. These will help you improve your basic speaking and writing skills, but they are also really good for picking more specialized types of language associated with different courses of study. For example, philosophy uses an entirely different vocabulary from chemistry, including many words that you are unlikely to come across during a beginner or even an intermediate language course.
More real-life meet-ups
If you don't have access to university societies, there are plenty of other opportunities for some real-life meetups to help you learn a new language. Websites such as Meetup help bring together people with shared interests. You can search for a language group in your local area. Alternatively, you can start your own and wait for some like-minded people to get in touch. And look out for specialist Facebook groups or adverts on sites like Gumtree. And if you find someone who's looking to learn your native language, you can arrange coffee or lunchtime meetups to help each other along. Spending just an hour each week with a native speaker will be hugely beneficial.
Speaky.com lets you practice learning a new language with people from all over the world. Its worldwide network includes people from over 180 countries speaking over 100 languages. Just sign up via Facebook or Google, find a partner who shares your interests, then start learning. Speaky.com lets you chat and make video and audio calls from your laptop, tablet, or smartphone. Alternatively, try conversationexchange.com. You can chat via text, voice, and video chat, or you can even find a penpal to sharpen your writing skills. The website also has a handy online learning resource center, which is completely free. It includes tips, tutorials, conversation starters, pronunciation guides, and much more.
Ted Talks have been a massive success, bringing together some of the smartest and most interesting people in the world to share their ideas and stories with the global community. And to make sure as many people as possible have access to these amazing talks, a group of Ted Volunteers spends hundreds of hours translating them into over 100 languages. There are more than 3,000 talks with subtitles in Spanish, Chinese (both Simplified and Traditional), Korean, French, and Portuguese; hundreds of talks in even some relatively uncommon languages; a handful from some of the world's least spoken languages including Irish Gaelic and Latin; and even one talk, from the famous, late physicist Stephen Hawking, in Klingon!
Find your inner self
Young children tend to learn languages much quicker than adults. Many experts believe this is linked to what's called brain plasticity. Generally speaking, this refers to the brain's ability to change and adapt in response to new experiences. As we get older, specific patterns of thinking become entrenched, making it harder to form new neural pathways associated with learning new skills. Although there's still plenty of research to be done, scientists have noted a correlation between regular meditation (around 15 to 20 minutes a day) and increased brain plasticity in adults. Mediation appears to boost Alpha brainwaves, which are associated with learning, memorizing, and recollecting large amounts of information -- all crucial skills when it comes to learning a new language.
Try it out!
You will learn lots about your new language while on campus, but you can pick up just as much when you are not in the classroom. Talking to locals is the best way to see how people actually speak the language rather than how it reads on paper. As an international student, almost every interaction you have is a chance to learn something new. This can be as simple as making a bit of small talk when you're in the local convenience store or exchanging a few pleasantries when you're buying a morning coffee. You will make some mistakes (some of which might be a little hilarious), but the vast majority of people will appreciate your efforts and will be happy to give you a few pointers. They might even teach you a few of the more 'colorful' local phrases!
Learning a new language is one of the most daunting parts of being an international student. However, it can also be extremely rewarding, lots of fun, and it will definitely help your future career prospects.
After graduating with a degree in English literature and creative writing, Ashley worked as a bartender, insurance broker, and teacher. He became a full-time freelance writer in 2016. He lives and writes in Manchester, England.