Sunday, August 3, 2014

How to...Brush Up Your Language Skills Before Going

Modified via Sergio Bertolini

This is one of the biggest niggles of the year abroad anticipation - how can you even contemplate speaking *insert language here* when you barely feel confident enough to string a sentence together?

For want of a better cliché, living in a country where the language is not your own pushes you as far away from your comfort zone as possible and slap bang in the deep end.

It is awkward.

It is embarrassing.

And I might as well just say it, it's horrible (at times).

But I could have made things easier for myself.  And hindsight is indeed a wonderful thing as I can pass on one of the many, many lessons learnt from my year abroad - brushing up your language skills before you go will make the full-on immersion shock a whole lot easier to handle.

Of course, it is no replacement for the real thing and it will still be a massive mountain to climb and then some. But, like a good boy scout, being prepared comes in handy.

So enough of me waffling on, you want the dirt, the know-how, the juicy details (don't ask me why I'm talking about it like it's Saturday night's gossip), the tried-and-tested language hacks that will set your year abroad off on the right foot:

Hardly the biggest shock and it's what all our teachers have been telling us all along but grammar, as boring as it is, is the foundation of language. Revising all those tricky irregular subjunctives, those pesky masculine/feminine exceptions and those difficult nonsensical rules beforehand means you won't be mumbling and stumbling through everything you say when you get there.

Reach out
If you have any contacts where you're going to go, strike up a conversation, make plans to meet when you arrive and start off practising from the get-go. Don't have any acquaintances there? Try, forums, sports clubs, whatever your interest may be, do what you can to find places where you can meet people with a mutual interest to put down roots both socially and linguistically.

Look up vocabulary
Again not a monumental piece of advice but I stupidly set off to France able to discuss greenhouse gases and the effects of global warming but completely inept to explain I was locked out of the flat and other various phrases that would actually be of use - especially at the beginning. Get them phrases down.

Try full-on immersion
OK, full-on immersion is slightly unrealistic before going but refresh your memory by reading newspaper or magazine articles, listening to radio or music, heck even follow Shakira on Twitter (highly recommended)! Getting to grips with the language used on a day-to-day basis is a far cry from what you will have learnt at university.

On a final note...
Advance preparation will help out massively but remember that learning a language is a day-by-day challenge. There will times when you wonder why you're so boring in *insert language here*, you will feel knackered by spending a whole day speaking it and you will berate yourself for being so god-awful (even though you're not) despite having learnt the language since year 7. Don't let the snidey comments or people laughing at your language skills get you down. Just smile whilst thinking about how you will eventually own them in their own language. Keep at it, persevere and you will have your well-deserved breakthrough. After that, you will wonder what all the fuss was about and you will probably be in exactly the same situation as I am now, reassuring others going through exactly the same as you did!

Bon courage/Buena Suerte!

What are your language learning hacks? How are(did) you preparing for your year abroad?

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