Tuesday 21 May 2019

Between the Lines: Language Learning Part 2 - Improving Your Foreign Languages

Last month I discussed my thoughts on how to get started with learning a foreign language. Today I will consider what to do after you’ve completed an initial course of study. How do you keep up and improve on your skills?

The truth is, this is not always easy, and it will require dedication and hard work. If you stop using a foreign language, you will lose it over time. However, on the plus side, if you do then return to it, it should come back to you fairly quickly.

I have studied several languages to varying degrees, and keeping them all up is a constant slog, but it’s something I love, so I do my best. I only wish I had more time to devote to it! Based on my experiences, here are my top five tips on ways you can continue to build on your foreign language studies.

1) Pen Pals—Corresponding with someone in another language gives you reading and writing practice, and will extend your vocabulary. Ask your pen pal to correct your mistakes for added benefit and improvement. I got many of my pen pals through the Friendship Books people send with their letters. Others I picked up online through shared interests (meeting on social media) or via pen pal websites. (Just be careful how much information you give out online until you are certain the site and/or person is legitimate.)

2) Fiction Books—The trick with picking books in a foreign language is to be realistic about what level you are at. Don’t choose something long and complex if you aren’t ready for it. Doing so will only discourage you unnecessarily. There’s nothing wrong with starting out with children’s books and working your way up from there.

3) Movies, TV & News Reports—Watch foreign-language films and television programmes for aural practice. Turn off the subtitles when you can for even more of a ‘workout’. Many foreign movies are available on DVD, or via streaming services, and you can often watch news broadcasts for free online, via the TV channel’s website.

4) Music and Podcasts—More aural practice can come from listening to music by singers from different countries. I am a musical theatre fan, and I listen to many musicals in the languages I learn. You’ll find CDs available to buy, or check out some songs on YouTube. Likewise, search online for some foreign-language podcasts on subjects of interest.

5) Meeting People—Speaking is often the hardest skill to practice, unless you have the money and opportunity for a lot of overseas travel. Perhaps you could ask your pen pals to Skype with you from time to time. In fact, some of the pen pal websites I mentioned earlier have search criteria where you can say you are looking for someone for speaking practice. Check in your local area or nearest city too. Maybe there are groups or societies you could join. This is all the more likely in areas with a large immigrant population. Here in Adelaide we have a French society, an Italian society, a German club etc.

If you speak a second language, how do you keep it up? Is there anything I haven’t mentioned here that you’d like to recommend?

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