So, you got accepted into an immersion or intensive language program. Congratulations! Just think of all those big dreams that will become possibilities with your acquired second [or maybe your third or fourth, etc.] language: job opportunities as an ESL teacher that might require you to know Vietnamese, more exciting travel experiences in which your Swahili will come into use, or connecting randomly with people from … let’s say … Vanatu with your newfound French skills. Imagine all the people thinking, “Wow. That person is so talented and cultured. I would want to be his/her friend.”
What amazing aspirations you have! But, wait. How will you actually be sure to use, develop, and truly learn that language in order to make those hopes come true? Assuming you have at least a little knowledge of this language or that you will pick up some very basic skills during your intensive coursework, here are some tips and tricks that I have used during my travels for you to brush up and/or develop your language skills:
- Read about subjects that fascinate you in your language of study. For example, maybe you love learning about exotic animals and you are trying to master the Korean language. In that case, type “Urechis unicinctus” — also known as ‘the penis fish’ — into Wikipedia and switch the language to Korean. (And because you are probably curious, click here because I’ve already done the work for you.)
- Change the language on your electronics. This one can be a huge hassle to deal with at first. However, you’ll learn new technological vocabulary words that will make you cool and hip — or just awkward and nerdy.
- Read your favorite books. Just change the language. You love Harry Potter. You can read the whole series over and over again. Therefore, I challenge you to read it once again in your language of study. It will actually be fun, because you already know the plot; it’s just a matter of you picking up new vocabulary and grammar based off the context of the book you already know and love.
- Watch kids movies and television shows. Maybe you hated suggestions #1, #2, and #3 because you hate reading in general. Nothing beats watching Spongebob Squarepants in Spanish and listening to its awkward attempts at translating American humor. Maybe you’ll even notice that Dora the Explorer is more talented than you thought. Apparently, she is found internationally on television teaching kids English.
- Go party with native speakers. If partying isn’t your thing, no worries! Instead, have a lunch or dinner with some locals. If eating isn’t your thing, then maybe you should make food a priority (at least while you are abroad). However, in all seriousness, this is the best way to study your language: socializing with people who really know and speak the language day-to-day on the streets. Don’t be afraid to get deep and ask them about the meaning of life, love, or their opinions on the existence (or non-existence) of God. Don’t be afraid to mess up or have people correct you. Locals will know it is not your first language, and you can only learn and get better.
Just remember, you are not in an immersion/intensive program to simply do foreign language grammar drills. You are there so you can learn the language firsthand and, hopefully, use it long after you leave your host country. Personally, these tools and tricks helped me pick up Modern Hebrew and Spanish rather quickly when I studied in Jerusalem, Israel and Córdoba, Spain. Perhaps you can use one or more of these practical tools to help you be on your way toward fluency. If you think anything was left out, please comment and add your own language learning tips!
“The limits of my language are the limits of my world.”
– Ludwig Wittgenstein