10 Easy Ways to Improve Your Language Skills While Studying Abroad
Written by Alan Pierce, Masters student, San Francisco campus, class of 2016.
No matter where you are in the Hult campus community you are no doubt surrounded by foreign languages. This global environment is one of the unique aspects of the Hult experience – it’s also a great opportunity to deepen (or begin) your foreign language-learning journey. You likely have people that speak your target language and also people hoping to learn like yourself! This is one of the benefits of studying abroad.
When I first went abroad for undergraduate studies, from the U.S. to Spain, I had one year to be fully immersed in the Spanish language. Because I had English-speaking friends there as well it was tempting to speak in our native language. Still, I made efforts to bring Spanish more fully into my life which helped me approach fluency by the time I left the country.
Below I list 10 ways to improve language skills:
- Change your computer’s default language
- Netflix and chill
- Stop hanging out with your countrymen
- Read a book you already know well
- Post-it Notes are your friend
- Carry a dictionary with you, always
- Network in a foreign language
- Play improv games with your friends
- Memorize lyrics to songs
- Download an app
Change your computer’s default language.
This is arguably the easiest step to take. On a Mac it takes three clicks. As any 21st century student knows, school life keeps us locked to our computers and tablets (as if we weren’t already). Learning to navigate your technology in the language you wish to learn is a great way to keep that language fresh in your mind every day – and to learn new words that will soon become second nature. That way, even if you’re on Facebook during class you’re still being a little bit productive.
Netflix and chill
Give new meaning to the term “Netflix and chill” by watching shows in your target language. Netflix and other streaming sites offer a variety of foreign-language films and TV shows, in addition to subtitles and dubbing of your favorite shows. You already know you are going to watch Netflix to procrastinate your readings – might as well earn some guilt-free productivity points by streaming Friends en español.
Stop hanging out with your countrymen
Okay, you don’t have to completely run away from them but if you spend time with people who speak your native language chances are you’ll speak your native language. I know this from both personal experience and observing other students at Hult. One way you can actually take advantage of this is to find a group of people from the country whose language you want to learn and hang out with them. They’ll speak their native language, and you’ll be learning all kinds of new slang, and probably words that don’t even translate to your native language.
Read a book you already know well
Are you trying to learn German? Do you recite Harry Potter quotes with your friends? Perfect. Pick up “Harry Potter und der Gefangene von Askaban” and you’re well on your way to learning some awesome new words in German. I read the first four Potter books in Spanish and can now tell my Spanish-speaking friends what my Patronus looks like. Harry Potter references aside, the familiarity of the book you choose will enable you to understand what you’re reading and facilitate a quick and fun learning of new words and phrases.
Post-it Notes are your friend
My brother went to Argentina for one year just after high school. When he left he knew dazzling Spanish basics like “Where is the bathroom?” When he came back he spoke like a fully-fledged Argentinian cowboy. One of the secrets to his language transformation: a Post-it note wall in his room. Every day he learned new words he would write them down on a Post-it and put it on the wall in his room. Apparently, literally being surrounded by words is a good way to get them stuck in your brain.
Carry a dictionary with you, always
An underrated form of language learning, pocket dictionaries can help you navigate spontaneous situations or answer a nagging vocabulary gap on the fly. I tried to learn snowboarding in Spain and had my trusty mini dictionary with me, which turned out to be crucial for asking about the right ski lift to ride in order to avoid the steep expert hill. While I never really learned to snowboard, I avoided needing any injury-related vocabulary.
Network in a foreign language
Networking is an art, and for most not an easy one. Add a new language to the mix and, well, you’re more committed than most language learners I know. Of course, you’ll want to have conversational proficiency before attempting this, but connecting at an event in such a way not only reflects your discipline to learning, but a willingness to take risks. If you’re interested in working in a foreign professional environment networking is a great place to practice talking about your industry and demonstrating your language capacity to that network.
Play improv games with your friends
This will depend on your current level of language learning, but improvisation activities offer some of the most engaging ways to get better and have fun at the same time. Your city may even have local groups dedicated to improv in different foreign languages. If that sounds terrifying, use Google to search for improv activities you can play with your friends. When learning a language you may fear making a fool of yourself. With improv that’s the point! Problem solved.
Memorize lyrics to songs
If you’ve ever lived abroad then you have probably experienced going to a bar or club to experience the local music scene. While your local friends are singing along to their favorite jams you smile and pretend you know what is happening. Take the time to learn the lyrics to some of the local music. Songs are a great way to help words stick. And nothing connects you quicker with a local culture than belting out a karaoke song in the local vernacular.
Download an app
Remember the productivity points I mentioned earlier? Here’s another way to earn those while you’re immersed in your smartphone. Language-learning apps have their limitations but they do provide an easy way to always have a language lesson at your fingertips. Some of my favorites are Duolingo and Memrise. Just don’t get caught in class practicing your daily lesson.
I hope these will be useful to you as you continue to dive into the learning of a new language. Don’t forget that the Hult community is a resource itself. Whether there is a Language Club on campus or not, you are surrounded by native speakers of many languages who are all potential language mentors. Good luck, or as they say in Spanish, buena suerte!