I boarded a plane for Southern Italy and was quickly met with my first language challenge. In what sounded like a woman speaking on fast forward, I somehow ascertained that she wanted me to sit in her seat in the back of the plane so she could sit next to her child. I was 18 and spending my first summer studying abroad. With each study abroad experience, my language skills improved but not without practicing some language learning advice I picked up along the way. Before you take off on a summer study abroad session or in the coming months, keep these tips in mind for learning the local tongue.
Resist English Like The Plague: Being red haired and pale in Italy often translated into many people wanting to speak English with me rather than Italian. If you are studying abroad and you want locals to speak to you in their language, you have to be disciplined yourself. Study abroad students need to resist speaking English. Rather than only making English-speaking friends or ordering in English at the dinner table, study abroad students need to try the local tongue. Otherwise, you will struggle with ever getting into the swing of your destination’s language.
Know It Won’t Be Perfect: I have had waiters flat out laugh at me for a language slip up. Learning how to pronounce every word in your study abroad destination’s language isn’t going to be possible on a one-semester stint. For the prideful, it can be difficult to make mistakes or face ridicule from locals. Study abroad students looking to learn a language need to admit that their language skills won’t be perfect. People may laugh and correct you but you need to make those mistakes to gain a sense of the language. Laugh through your teeth with them and know your pronunciation won’t be perfect.
Sign Up For A Homestay: I spent several semesters in Italy, some living with host families and others living with American students. The semesters spent living with locals accelerated my language comprehension. If every dinner or exchange outside of the classroom becomes a language class in its own right, you stand a better chance of becoming proficient in your destination’s language. If you are worried about making mistakes with a new language, a homestay can be great for students as those who sign up to host students can be much more patient and gentle as you stumble around the language.
Challenge Yourself With Your Studies: For some, studying abroad is just a means to travel and learn in a new place. However, if you really want to try to pick up some of your destination’s language, you have to challenge yourself with your studies. Rather than signing up for the bare minimum language requirements, the classroom can provide the perfect environment to challenge yourself with a new language. Especially if you worry you will be laughed at and make mistakes, a classroom environment can be the most welcoming to challenges with a new language. Even if you are worried about taking a subject course like history in a different language, try it. The challenge will increase your proficiency and help you set the bar high for your language goals.