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How to study a language

Remember that the best way to learn a language is to completely immerse yourself in the language and culture of your host country.  You will have a lot of choices to make about how best to study, so here is some advice to help you make the most of your studies..............

While you are studying, you should try to make the most of your time.  Take advantage of your chance to improve your language skills in class and make sure that you practise outside as well.

Your host family and friends will be happy to speak with you.

Attend the college’s sports and social activities: these offer the perfect opportunity for you to speak your target language with your fellow students and the college’s staff.  Aim to speak to people that you haven’t spoken to before – who knows, you may meet some people who will be your friends for life!

Even if most of your friends speak the same language (mother tongue) as you, try to speak your target language with them: it may seem strange at first, but later it may become almost natural.

Speak to as many people as you can.  You will find them very helpful if you remember to be polite and considerate.  (Always think about your own safety, however, before approaching strangers).

Every time you say anything in the language, you are getting useful practice, even if you are only asking someone for the time, or buying something in a shop!

Whenever you pay attention to anything that is said in your target language, you are practising your listening skills!  This does not have to be hard work – you can have fun and still practise your listening skills by chatting with your friends, going to the cinema, listening to the radio or watching television.

Try to bombard yourself with the target language sounds!

Listen to every piece of communication in the language – you’ll soon get used to the way it sounds, and little by little, this will also help you with your own speaking (including your pronunciation).

Why not try recording the radio or television so that you can listen again and again and use the recordings to check on new words and expressions?  You will find it much easier to learn new vocabulary if you are interested in the subject and can relate the language to a particular situation or context.  The images on the TV screen will help you to make sense of some of the words and expressions that you don’t understand.

Watching TV with a native speaker (such as your landlady or landlord) will also give you the chance to ask for some explanations.  But don’t ask too many questions or they might get impatient!  You could also make notes while you are listening to a radio or TV programme and then check what you though you heard with a native speaker or a dictionary.

The best way to improve your reading is by reading!  Read everything you can find to read: books, magazines, letters, newspapers, even the backs of cornflake packets!

Why not underline the new words and then check on the ones that really stop you understanding the main points of the text?  Don’t worry about every single word that you don’t understand!  Only focus on the words that cause you problems.  (Otherwise it may take you a long time to read an article and you may get bored before you finish it!).

Remember that you normally read for pleasure or to find a particular piece of information.  Bear this in mind when you are deciding what to read: look for things to read that you are interested in.

Every time that you pick up a pen, make sure that you write down your ideas in your target language!  If you are going shopping, for example, make your shopping list in the language.

Write notes and letters to your friends in the language.

Set yourself tasks to complete: make notes while you are watching a TV programme and then write yourself a short summary of the plot.

Keep a diary and note down everything that you think is relevant to your course so that you can see how much progress you are making.  Write about your feelings and experiences while you are in your host town / country.  You might produce a bestseller!

Although you may make some mistakes, you will certainly find that the more you use the language in writing, the more confident you will become.

A language course textbook is a very useful support tool when you are learning a language because normally it will have been designed to take you step by step through the key learning points and target language items.  There should be a logical development of language practice opportunities as you progress through the book and a lot of modern coursebooks have multi-media attributes (eg. a CD Rom that accompanies the book with listening exercises and examples) and support features like glossaries and grammar sections.  Make sure you choose any books you buy carefully: get the advice of an experienced teacher.

Remember that the key to learning any language is using it!  Use it or lose it!