January 2, 2014, by Guest blog

You’re learning without necessarily studying

Post written by Lucy Kirkup.

When arriving in a new country for a period abroad, language acquisition is something that plays heavily on your mind. Using your language in a real-life situation is worlds away from learning grammar points in the classroom. The year abroad is one of, if not the most exciting part of any linguist’s degree. The thrill of communicating with locals in their language and being able to maintain a decent conversation makes all those hours slaving over the books seem worth it. The four elements of language acquisition; listening, reading, writing and speaking, all improve immensely when studying or working abroad. The best part of the year abroad in my mind is that you’re learning without necessarily ‘studying’. By that I mean you’re constantly absorbing information from your surroundings and a simple chat with a friend or watching you favourite TV show becomes an educational experience. I am currently reading ‘Schiffbruch mit Tiger’ (Life of Pi) and whilst normally I would feel somewhat guilty for not reading something more academic I have to keep reminding myself that I am learning more than enough to justify such an enjoyable read.

About halfway through one’s placement in a foreign country you are forced to begin to assess your language acquisition. I can safely say that the listening element of language learning is probably the first thing that you notice has improved considerably. A language student is like a sponge, continuously absorbing useful phrases and colloquialisms to the point where you know what sounds right and what sounds wrong, instinctively. I have always enjoyed speaking foreign languages. Whilst many Germans speak fairly decent English, I can proudly say I have never once been tempted to speak to them in English. The reason for this is simple: I am there to learn German, a language I love to speak. Your accent advances seamlessly as your improved listening comprehension means that you can easily mimic how the locals phrase their sentences. Confidence plays a huge role in speaking a foreign language. The best advice I could give anyone who wants to improve their spoken language would just be to not hold back and talk as much as you can. Mistakes may be made, but if you don’t speak you will never learn to correct those mistakes.

Reading is another element of language learning that you will find makes a quantum leap during your year abroad. I would recommend reading novels as well as newspapers, everything that you would normally read in English. The more you read the more you’ll see that the once tricky vocabulary is now engrained in your memory. Writing is probably the most difficult element to improve.  Depending on whether you’re studying or working you may be writing a lot or very little. At work I have to write emails in German and also attend seminars where I make notes in German. I also believe that reading and writing are intertwined and that the more you read the more complex structures you will be able to use in your writing.

Posted in Language acquisition