Immersion. Completely surrounding yourself in a language is THE fastest way to learn any language. The best way to do this is, naturally, by traveling to the native country, with the focus of total cultural immersion and advancing your language skillset. Each year, students from across the world head off on a year abroad to a completely foreign country to do exactly that. Having a study abroad experience broadens learning opportunities, while also helping to improve upon your target language proficiency.
But how can you make sure you make the most of this amazing experience? Here are some top tips from a student fresh from a year abroad in Italy!
As I write this blog post, I’m listening to my favorite Italian musician. A year ago, I didn’t even know his name, but now, I can understand everything he is singing about! Like many students, I had the chance to have a year abroad and improve my Italian last year. Because of this study abroad program, I realized how important it is to get out of your comfort zone, experience what the world's vibrant cities have to offer and to become familiar with their local culture and language. However, when you spend your time with other international students, you can sometimes end up choosing the easiest way to communicate. For me, this was speaking English, rather than speaking Italian!
At the beginning of the academic year, I felt frustrated and embarrassed by my level of Italian. Not knowing how to pronounce certain words or resorting to my ‘comfort language’ were daily obstacles.
Diving into the language during your year abroad can be difficult, but it is far from impossible, and very rewarding. Here are my seven tips on how to get yourself completely immersed in your chosen language as quickly as possible!
You should probably start planning to learn the language some time before you leave for your adventure. But let’s be frank - just learning vocabulary is pretty boring and won’t get you very excited about your trip. Instead, try preparing by practicing with a native speaker. A Tandem partner is a great option for doing this remotely. You can ask them everything you want to know about the country and culture and get the best recommendations before you even arrive!
It is definitely not easy to find an apartment with locals, but it’s worth it if you want to learn the local language! In the beginning, you will probably feel lost and exhausted from listening to another language the whole time, but you’ll get used to it. My advice: don’t start looking for an apartment until you’re there. If you look online, you will often only find apartments with internationals. When you are there, you will find bulletins posts by locals in the university and even on the street.
For example: learn five new words and phrases, or talk to a stranger on the street, or go to a bar where nobody speaks English and have a conversation. A little challenge every day makes you feel more confident and helps you to lose your fear of speaking.
Cinemas and theaters are great places to experience something together with your new friends. Search for a cinema where they show movies with subtitles, rather than watching dubbed in a language you already know. Watching and listening at the same time are excellent practice when you’re learning a language.
Always talking on the Tandem app and getting along really well? You will probably also have fun when you hang out in person! Meet your Tandem partner and explore the most beautiful spots in the city together, while also practicing and speaking the language.
Acting in the theater, listening to music or doing sports are all great for improving your language skills. Do everything you like to do in your home country, just in another language!
You will experience a lot during your year abroad and you want to keep hold of the memories after returning home. So, write a diary in the foreign language to reflect on the time you’ve had. This also forces you to use the language skills you have already learned each day.
Whether it's spending a semester abroad or even going on a gap year, remember to say yes to every opportunity that presents itself to you. If there are certain activities or programs offered at your University abroad that aren't available at home, take the plunge and get involved! You will thank yourself later.
Are you heading off on a year abroad? Make sure you practice your language skills on Tandem before you go. Download the Tandem app now!