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7 Top Tips for Language Learning to Study Abroad

By Guest Writer

Updated October 20, 2015 Updated October 20, 2015

Guest post: Luca Sadurny

A trip always takes some level of preparation, and a study abroad program takes even more! It isn’t as simple as preparing your suitcase, your travel insurance or your flight – you may also need to prepare to study in a foreign language. For handling fast-paced and in-depth lectures and taking notes, a basic level won’t do. You need a good ear. To help get yours ready, I'll fill you in on some suggestions, tips and tricks which helped me, an Italian, get ready for my study abroad experience in France.

If you can speak the language at a basic level, you’re already well off. This allows you to stroll about the market, find an apartment, or order a drink without problems. But can you say the same for studying in that language? That’s a different story. Taking a class in a foreign language is not the same as having a conversation with nice people in a bar. Reading a textbook isn’t the same as reading the street and metro signs. Taking notes? Now that’s the ultimate test. But don't worry; I've put all my suggestions together in one place, to help you conquer language learning for study in a foreign country…

Language learning tip #1: Immerse yourself in the language 
Immerse yourself in the language

In my opinion, the first thing is getting your ears used to hearing just the language. How?

Every day, listen to the TV or radio in your target language. In the beginning, accents and speech rates can make it difficult to understand all the details of a conversation (just imagine the details of an average lecture). No matter what country you’re in, there are always people you can understand better than others. Giving at least an hour per day to the TV or radio in a foreign country will get your ears used to this language and all its nuances.

My tip: There are websites such as FilmOn for TV and TuneIn for radio, which allow you to tune into channels from other countries. It’s up to you to decide the language and topics that interest you.

Language learning tip #2: Get reading!

After your ears are acclimatized, the next goal is getting your eyes used to this language. If you like novels or even fables, your best bet is a longer read: the types of books you will read on campus. Not the newspaper, not the latest news on the web, but an actual book that you can train with.

My tip: Try reading between 5 to 10 pages each day for at least 15 minutes. A daunting exercise at first, but one that will pay off, trust me.

Language learning tip #3: Train yourself to take notes 

Listening, check. Reading, check. Next you need to focus on writing, one the most crucial elements for taking a course in a foreign language. At the end of the day, you have to be able to take good notes. How else can you study for your classes? Taking lecture notes requires fast writing, easy readability and completeness. Your notes must be clear and concise.

My tip: To practice for this task, which can be difficult abroad, your best bet is to start by taking notes from the TV and radio. Not only is the rate of speech about the same as in a lecture, but you can easily verify how correct you were at writing down the information you gathered.

Language learning tip #4: Sign up for a MOOC

To take it a step further, you can sign up for a MOOC. I already hear it: “Sign up for a what?!"

A MOOC (massive open online course) is a free online class. Whatever your field is, you can sign up for an interactive course which can train you to take notes as if you were there in person.

Language learning tip #5: Write something every day

Note-taking is one thing. To turn in a homework assignment is something totally different. During your experience, you will have to give presentations and turn in projects in a foreign language. Writing, even fiction, is just as important as taking notes.

My tip: Begin by keeping a journal or writing a blog, about your study abroad experiences for example. The advantage of a foreign language blog? It can be followed by native speakers or other readers who can easily correct you. And even more helpfully, on the website Lang-8, you can have your writings corrected by native speakers.

Language learning tip #6: Identify the most useful vocabulary 

When I talk about training, I’m not asking you to become fully bilingual. No, the goal here is to learn the specific vocabulary in your field of study. Start off by focusing on the words and phrases that you are going to hear and use very often (of course, more than just vocabulary about the area around your apartment or placing an order in a restaurant).

Language learning tip #7: Find a language exchange

Finally, we're left with speaking skills. In the context of a project or presentation, it’s pretty useful to be able to express yourself in your target language, in an academic manner. Why not find a native correspondent for this? A native speaker can listen to you and correct you.

My tip: There are many sites you can use to meet native speakers who study, just like you, and who want to take part in a language exchange. Explain your project to your new "professor" and discuss the exact topics you are studying, to practice for class discussions.

This post was written by Luca Sadurny, Managing Partner at MosaLingua, polyglot and language enthusiast, who has been learning languages on his own for more than 12 years. On the MosaLingua blog, he regularly writes about useful tips and efficient strategies to learn and improve foreign languages.

This article was originally published in September 2015 . It was last updated in October 2015

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