So you’ve signed up for 30 group lessons and five one-on-one language lessons per week. By the end of that, you should be quite good at speaking English, French, German, Spanish or whatever language you want to learn abroad.
Maybe. Maybe not. If you spent most of your time in class filling out one grammar sheet after another, your speaking and listening skills will suffer. And most students travel abroad just for that purpose: to learn to speak in the language of their choice (and that includes listening, as well).
Here’s how to help yourself become more fluent without a language instructor:
1. Make a point of only speaking in your foreign language whenever you are outside the class. This can be very difficult if you’ve come along with people who speak your own native language. This may actually irritate some of your comrades who speak the foreign language in class, but who only speak in your native tongue outside the class. Explain to them that it’s important to you to become fluent in the new language and that this is the only way that it will work for you. Some may eventually see the light and follow suit.
2. Do everything in your foreign language: ask for directions, order in restaurants, go to the cinema, go shopping. Do these things even if you go with your friends from back home who don’t use the new language outside the classroom.
3. Live with a host family who speaks the language you want to learn. Make sure your host family knows you want to only speak French, German or whatever. This is something you arrange with the foreign language school beforehand.
4. Watch TV in your new language. Some people have managed to become fluent almost solely by watching TV in a foreign language. The news is one of the best things to watch in your new language because it’s very repetitive and you know what’s going on-even if you don’t understand every word-because of the graphics that accompany the spoken words.
5. Don’t be afraid to make mistakes. Making mistakes outside the classroom is actually easier than making them in the classroom. Most native speakers in your country of choice are glad to help foreigners learning their language. And when you are corrected by a native speaker outside the classroom, you will remember it much better than if your language teacher corrected you in class.
6. Look at speaking your new language outside the classroom as an adventure. After all, you didn’t sign up for language lessons to just speak it in a classroom, but to use it in the real world.
7. Subtly eavesdrop on native speakers in the country you’re visiting. Listen to the everyday expressions they use, the intonation of the language-and observe the body language that accompanies the words.
By immersing yourself in the foreign language outside the classroom, you be learning the language in a real context-not out of some grammar book.
Ilene Springer lives and teaches EFL in Malta, and is author of An-American-in-Malta.com