by Lenore Holditch
I've studied abroad for six months each in two different countries. In one study abroad experience, I hardly picked up any language skills. In the other, I left being able to tell jokes in a different language. You've probably read a million articles telling you that in order to learn a new language, you should immerse yourself in the language by studying abroad. But study abroad alone will magically teach you how to speak a different tongue. You have to be strategic about it. Here's how, based on my one failed attempt and my second, successful attempt at learning a new language:
This is a very difficult thing to accomplish, because your fellow study abroad students from your native country are likely the first people with whom you'll interact. That's just the nature of study abroad programs. Of course, this isn't to say that you should completely ignore your classmates. But understand that hanging out with them means losing out on valuable time in an immersion environment. You'll want to spend time with your classmates because it makes you comfortable. Learning a new language, however, is about forcing yourself to be okay with discomfort. Limit your time spent with other native speakers of your first language, and you'll see how quickly you begin to adapt by practicing your second language conversation skills.
Of course, if you sit around all day in a foreign country, watch TV and surf the web, you'll never learn a second language. Take as much advantage as you can in your new country, and go out and talk to people. I'm not saying that you should talk to strangers, but put yourself in situations where you have to speak the language. For example, whenever your host family needs errands to be run, offer to do it for them. This will force you to go to the grocery store, where you have to read labels and talk to cashiers. Think of as many public situations as you can that will compel you to use different types of vocabulary.
Most study abroad programs give you the option of living with a host family instead of living in a dorm. Always choose the host family option. More than just this, talk to an agent from your study abroad program and specify that you'd like to live with a family that has absolutely no knowledge of your own native tongue. If your native language is English, this is especially important, since so many people all around the world have a working knowledge of English. By staying with a host family that doesn't speak a word of your language, you'll have to practice your language skills while living with them.
There are plenty of different ways you can maximize your language learning skills while studying abroad. The most important thing to remember, however, is to step out of your comfort zone. Language learning necessitates making mistakes constantly, but in the end being okay with that. Good luck!
Lenore Holditch is a freelance writer and blogger who loves to learn. She especially enjoys writing about education, technology, college life, personal finance, and more. Check out more of her writing at www.toponlinecolleges.com. Lenore welcomes your comments below!