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Five Painless Ways to Practice a Foreign Language Abroad

Grace Lower | May 11, 2022

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If you visit any study abroad blog, forum, or workshop, you’ll notice that conversation groups are all the rage. After all, they’re a great opportunity to meet locals and connect with other language learners. But what’s rarely mentioned is how exhausting these groups can be. Small-talk can get tedious, and when you throw in the anxiety of speaking a foreign language, it can be positively daunting. But fear not, introverts! Here are a few simple tricks to get yourself acclimated to a new language before taking the conversation group plunge. 

1. Take advantage of snack-time

If you’re feeling a little peckish between meals, take a solo-trip to a grocery store or market. While you’re there, browse through the store’s selection, and note the names for your favorite foods. If you’re old-school like me, you can jot them down in a pocket-sized notebook, or you can simply add them to a note on your phone. The produce section —with its clear labels and large-print signs — is especially useful for building food-based vocabulary. Alternatively, visit a bakery or an ice cream shop to get a crash-course on common flavors. Learning the words for “chocolate,” “vanilla,” or “berry,” will serve you well, especially when you’re craving something sweet. Once you’ve sufficiently expanded your food-related vocabulary, treat yourself to the snack of your choice!

2. Indulge in a little binge-watching

There will be some nights when all you want to do is curl up and watch your favorite show on Netflix. Rather than feeling guilty, allow yourself to enjoy some binge-watching from time to time. Make it a personal rule that you must watch a few episodes in the language you’re learning — and feel free to turn on the subtitles, if needed. Watching a familiar storyline in your second language is a great way to reinforce key terms surrounding friendship, family, and everyday conflict. When I was studying abroad in Spain, I worked my way through several seasons of Friends. The majority of my viewings were in Spanish. Watching a familiar show was comforting, but practicing my Spanish comprehension skills kept me on my toes. Take it from me: even if you don’t catch every word, sitcoms like Friends are just as funny in a foreign language. 

3. Buy a copy of your favorite book or magazine

Another low-stakes way to practice your second language is to read something familiar in that language. When you pass a bookstore or newsstand in your host country, try to find a copy of your favorite book or magazine in the native language. Re-reading Harry Potter or leafing through a lifestyle magazine are easy ways to build basic vocabulary. Even magazine ads can be useful for learning new adjectives!

4. Check out YouTube

While YouTube has its share of utterly bizarre content, there are countless international channels with videos spanning all genres. I’ve found that YouTube is a great way to practice listening comprehension, since it showcases a variety of accents and dialects from the people who star in the videos. From home-repair to makeup tutorials, foreign-language videos cover a variety of topics. The short length of the videos, along with the ability to pause and rewind if you missed something, makes YouTube a useful platform for learning your second language.

5. Update your tech

If you brought your laptop or phone with you, try setting your default language to your second language. It’s a simple trick, but you’ll be surprised by how much you pick up out of necessity. Learning basic technical terms like “shut down,” “update,” and “settings” is essential for any tech-savvy traveler. Your newfound vocabulary will also provide a good starting point if you need to get your computer fixed while you’re abroad. A word of advice, though: make sure you know the click-path to revert your settings…just in case. If you’re interested in taking your immersion to the next level, set your social media feeds to display in your second language. Not only will the text update within your newsfeed, but you’ll also have the (slightly creepy) benefit of getting ads in your second language. If you’re someone who spends a lot of time online, why not use that time to practice your second language?

Learning a new language takes effort, but the best way to build confidence is through immersion. Rather than designating certain times to practice your second language, try incorporating it into your life through the media you consume, the errands you run, and the items you buy. Building your comprehension and vocabulary skills as you go about your day will help you gain confidence and fluency.

Conversation groups are a valuable tool, but they’re not the only option for language learners. When it comes to learning a new language, don’t underestimate the power of down-time well-spent!

If you are traveling and run into difficulties with language and need help, remember that our Seven Corners Assist team speaks eight languages. We also have arrangements with translators for many other languages, so we can help!

About the Author

Grace Lower

Grace Lower has a love for all things writing and travel. When she's not exploring new places, Grace enjoys teaching English as a Second Language, making terrible puns, and running incredibly long distances at incredibly slow speeds.

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