5 Tips for Students Learning a Foreign Language
Sophie Austin has a few tips that can help you on your way to say ciao and トイレはどこですか like a pro.
There’s a whole heap of benefits to learning another language, apart from the age old party trick where you recite a few swear words to impress your mates (căcat means shit in Romanian, you’re welcome). It can help you travel like a local in Europe, score a job in Asia, or even chat up a few friends from the Middle East.
If you’re not a polyglot, you might know how difficult it is to keep on your toes whilst learning a language other than your own. As someone who has had a tenacious relationship with learning Korean, I get it. Life demands our attention, and sometimes language learning has to come second to making sure the rent is paid.
But if you’re really serious about adding another language to your arsenal, Here are a few tips and tricks to get you saying por favor and merci in no time.
Determination > Motivation
Ever promised yourself you’d hit the gym after New Year, go for about a week, and then find yourself on a Netflix binge with your best friend (pizza) mid-January? This is pretty common when we set goals, especially when the results aren’t immediate.
It’s not to say that we’re lazy, in fact, over 80% of us fail our New Year’s resolutions by February. This can largely be the fault of motivation fading. When we first set to do something, there’s always that little crackle of fire in your belly that says “you can do this!” But like any fire, this tends to burn out, sometimes quicker than it does for others.
A good thing to remember then is determination over motivation. Once your motivation skips town, it’s time to keep determined. Remind yourself why you set this goal; do you want to visit Japan and slurp soba with the locals? Maybe you want to hit up the beaches in Brazil, or talk to your Mongolian grandparents next time they visit? Also remember that it’s okay to fail, it’s not that you should be studying your language, it’s that you want to study your language.
Practice makes perfect
It’s a big one, you really can’t get much done if you don’t practice. Like learning guitar, language comes with repetition, which means you should be practising your language at least once a day, even if it’s just going over some notes instead of taking a between-lecture nap. The most fluent linguists will tell you that it takes years of practice to become perfect, so don’t forget to add that to the list.
Media is your best friend
When my eyes start to blur into one consistent blob of Korean, that’s when I turn to other sources to stimulate me (and go on a casual K-Variety Show marathon). An effective way to keep involved with the language is by surrounding yourself with it. This means to engage with their forms of media; some Spanish pop music, or a German film, or a Thai drama series. Not only will it reiterate a lot of the vocabulary and sentence patterns you have already learnt, but it will let you in on all the little secrets that your textbook can’t teach you, like some slang, or even how to complain about your 9AM lecture.
Drown yourself in language, no seriously
Remember what I said about surrounding yourself? Scratch that. Drown yourself in the language. Breathe in the culture, suffocate your senses with the history, be hungry for every spoken word. And the best way to surround yourself is by visiting a country where your language is spoken. That way you can meet locals and practice your language almost every day. As they say, the best way to become proficient in a language is to speak it every day, to hear it every day, and to live a life that relies on you speaking the language to survive.
Not able to go overseas because student fees have put an offensive dent in your savings? No problem, immersing yourself in the culture doesn’t always need a plane ticket. There are many cultural sites, groups and communities that you are able to engage in. The Confucius Institute, The Indigenous Collective, the Saudi Students Club, La Peña and the Hong Kong Association are an example of a few clubs and collectives on campus.
Time to take some classes
A great motivation for those learning language is to band together with people who are in the same boat, riding the same ocean toward their language success. Sometimes, we learn better when there’s someone guiding us, or when we have resources available that you could forget about when you’re learning solo (textbooks can get hella expensive, but they work!)
There are a whole lot of programs suitable for UON students, it just takes a bit of digging. The Confucius Institute offers night classes for those learning Chinese, Newcastle Spanish Lessons runs every Tuesday, the Newcastle Korean Language School has lessons every Saturday and WEA offers courses in Auslan and Italian. UON also offers language classes that can fit into your degree if you have a few electives spare, including Japanese, German, French, Auslan and Chinese, as well as a Diploma of Languages to specialise in intensive language studies.
Feature image by Sophie Austin.