Despite learning French, Spanish and Italian for nearly ten years, I am still lightyears away from becoming fluent in any of these languages. However, although I may not have mastered them, I have found a number of ways to make sure I keep up a good level of language (even when I’m not studying)! If you’re an aspiring linguist, or just want to keep up your skill in a language you used to study at school, these tips might just help!
Prepare for the Long Process
I have been learning French since the age of 11, and at 21 years old, I can honestly say that I am still not fluent despite taking GCSEs, A-Levels and University exams, not to mention holidays spent in Paris, Normandy and Pas-de-Calais, and four months of my year abroad spent studying in Toulouse. Being patient and being persistent are key – they’re the two most important things that you have to possess in order to successfully learn a language. Don’t think it will be sunshine lollipops and rainbows, or to expect to be bilingual in a matter of months – it’s a lengthy process!
Expose Yourself to the Language
I have met many a person with the mindset that when it comes to languages, all you have to do is learn grammar and vocabulary. This doesn’t work so easily; you need to develop not only aural and oral skills, but also reading and written skills. Whilst your knowledge of the imperfect subjunctive may be faultless, this doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll be able to hold a conversation or understand what someone says to you in your target language, let alone be able to understand a Guy de Maupassant novel! If possible, on your way to work or uni, or even whilst you’re in the shower or getting ready, try to listen to a foreign language station or podcast to accustom your ears to hearing the language. When you’re doing any menial tasks (cleaning, cooking and going to the gym etc.), try to put on a TV show or film in the language you’re studying, to improve your aural skills. Make sure to read a variety of written material from novels to newspapers, to understand the difference in styles (formality, written expression and so on).
Install a VPN
Google Chrome has the option of an added VPN extension under the name of Hola, which means you can change your browsing country, so if you want to watch French Netflix or a Swedish TV catch-up website, it can all be done with one click! If you’re a big online shopper, browse your websites in a different language, this will help you to pick up useful vocabulary that you probably don’t realise that you use on a daily basis!
Get to Know an International
Being at university is a blessing when it comes to language learning. UK universities are full of international students, plenty of whom would leap at the chance of having an ‘English Buddy’. Whilst many international students may be fluent or advanced in English, it’s likely they’ll be in need of a cultural guide and someone who understands the English University System – and they could seek comfort in speaking in their native language with you!
Befriend an ERASMUS
There are plenty of Erasmus students out there who are looking to improve their spoken English, and eager to make friends during the time they spend in the UK, so put yourself out there! Post notices around your university (noticeboards/library/common rooms) or write a post on any Facebook groups (search ERASMUS students at your uni and there’ll undoubtedly be a few pages popping up). Chances are that someone will get back to you!
Make YouTube your Best Friend
Like Netflix, YouTube has thousands of TV shows/films which are dubbed into foreign languages or subtitled, so you can get to improve your listening skills. Even better, there are thousands of YouTubers across the world now, so you can watch weekly to monthly videos on all sorts of stuff from food, makeup and other tutorials, to vloggers who talk about politics, environmental issues, social and cultural movements and other hot topics. With the ever-rising number of YouTubers, you can subscribe to vloggers from all walks of life, and learn about everything from lifestyle advice to current affairs and more, so whilst you’re improving your aural skills, you can learn about the culture of the country, too! Try and find reality TV shows or repeats of news reports and weather reports, as this will help improve your aural skills further, as you can learn to
Go Volunteering or Work Abroad
So many of us students are becoming avid gap-yearers , or wanting to do a third year abroad for the fun of it, so if you fancy ‘discovering yourself’ or just wanting to help mankind while you’re young and free, why not sign yourself to a volunteering programme? There are plenty of French-speaking and Spanish-speaking countries across the world, so if you study a widely-spoken language, chances are you could volunteer in the Caribbean, South America, North America and Africa! If you prefer to earn a little, there are thousands of websites dedicated to hiring English speakers (particularly for roles such as au-pairs or English teachers) for a year, a semester or even a summer holiday, so make sure to look around! Throwing yourself in the deep end this way is a good way to really become part of the culture, and helps you to further understand the language you’re studying!
Read Women’s Magazines
My Uncle, a linguist and lecturer, taught me this gem. Upon moving to Italy, a key element in improving his Italian was reading women’s magazines. Funnily enough, not only did women’s mags contain a wide range of vocabulary that he needed to use in day-to-day life, but they also informed him on topics that he was then able to bring up in social situations, as well as allowing him to understand the cultural, economic and various other factors that affected the daily lives of both women and men in Italy. I gave this a try whilst on my year abroad in Toulouse and was able to gain a wealth of knowledge about French cuisine, The French and their views on everything from Feminism to Recycling and more, so keep this in mind if you’re travelling!
Get Out There
You can gain a wealth of knowledge from TV shows, films, speaking to people, the Internet and so on, but the best experience of all is visiting or living in the country of the language you’re studying. If you’re able to go for a month or longer - during Christmas holidays, summer holidays, during Uni or post-Uni, just book a flight, find somewhere to stay and experience the lifestyle of the language you’re studying from visiting galleries and museums to sampling the cuisine. You’ll gain the most from this experience!