By Chris Hall
Travelling in country to learn a language can be a daunting yet rewarding experience. There is quite a lot you can do to improve your language ability when you are in a country where everyone around you speaks it. However, people often find difficulties making the most of their time in-country. People often find it difficult to connect with locals and it seems that no matter where you go, people are drawn to others with the same linguistic background. When I moved to the tiny village of Saignon in France, the first four people I met were Australian. I couldn't believe it! It also happens with my students who come to Sydney to study English. It doesn't matter if they are from South Korea, Thailand, Germany or the Czech Republic, students quickly become surrounded by a community of people who speak their first language.
Luckily there are strategies that can help you make the most of your stay in country. These tips can be applied to any city or country, but for today I'm going to focus on English language learning in Sydney, Australia. If you would like some tips on how to get by and improve you language in other cities in Australia, France, Indonesia or Japan, please leave a comment below.
Here are some strategies or tools that you can use to improve your language. None of them are good enough in isolation. You need to use as many as possible in combination. There are two basic categories that we can look at. The first one is language study and the second is getting social with the language.
- Free Online English language resources such as these video lessons or grammar focused lessons are also a great way to learn new language on the cheap. Not learning English? That's fine, the Internet has a plethora of options out there. As an example, check out these lessons for learning Indonesian.
- It might be a surprise to some, but if you want to learn a language you need to do at least some grammar and vocabulary study. But maybe not as much as you think. To be efficient and effective at your study you should limit each study session to 10 minutes. By studying for ten minutes per day, you put yourself on you way to language mastery. If you want to study more than that, then take a 5 minute break every 10 minutes. This helps keep you brain fresh and able to focus.
- Do you want to improve your listening and expand your vocabulary quickly? Then you need to watch short videos, at least 3 per day. This strategy is not the same as watching movies or TV shows. Ideally the short videos should be between 1 to 10 minutes in length. You should watch them without subtitles and try to just get the basic idea. As they are short, you can watch them several times. You should watch videos about a variety of topics.
- Get your mouth moving and sing songs! Ok, you don't need to sing but you need to move your mouth and produce sound if you want to improve your speaking ability in a language. Songs are a great way to improve your speaking when you are alone. Don't spend too much time worrying about the vocabulary, you should do your best to imitate the singers. The best thing is that you can use these songs while doing things like getting ready in the morning or doing housework. Good songs to start with if you are learning English are Riptide, Someone I Used to Know, and How to Save a Life. For Indonesian try Guru Oemar Bakri. And Le Petit Cheval is my favourite song to sing when learning French. My heart aches for that poor little horse, he was such a trooper!
- Wherever you are in the world, taking a class or enrolling in a language course is an option. It can help structure your day and keep you focused on you language development and your goals. You can usually find many language school options from a quick online search. However, you need to be careful. A language school by itself is not the be-all and end-all. It is just one tool at your disposal and if you want to learn fast, you should combine it with a number of other learning strategies. If you are time poor and you want more bang for your buck, then private, one-on-one lessons are a great alternative to classroom lessons. It might cost more per hour, but the beauty is that you don't need as many hours with a teacher because all the focus is on you. As long as you are self-motivated and study outside you tutoring times then this is a great option. A word of warning though, make sure you vet your tutor. Many people advertise themselves as teachers yet they may not have teaching qualifications. A native speaker does not equal a language teacher.
2. Get social - Start "living" in the language
- Join a sports team or club, they are everywhere. If you are stuck, universities are a good place to find sports clubs and anyone can join. By getting involved with a club you become instantly surrounded by native speakers who share your passion. It is true whether you are playing football in Sydney or scuba diving in the South of France. Before long you will be hanging out and sharing meals with your local teammates.
- Public talks are another way to meet local people and have a chinwag. It is great for you language learning to listen to an interesting talk, then discuss it afterwards with like-minded people. In Sydney, there is a talk on almost everyday. Most are free and there is often free food and drink. To start with in Sydney, check out Sydney Talks, Sydney University, The State Library of NSW, Customs House Library, Japan Foundation, Alliance Francaise, and the Goethe Institute.
- Short Courses are also a great way to meet locals and live the language. Study something that you are interested in with other Sydney locals. It is an English speaking context and the students are locals who share your interest, whether that is painting, photography or eCommerce. This idea isn't just for learning English in Sydney. Opportunities are everywhere! Are you learning Japanese in Tokyo? Great! Learn the trombone. Even if you end up being terrible at playing brass instruments, I am sure that your Japanese will improve.
Remember, when it comes to language learning, it is you who is in control. Not you teacher. Use your teacher, class and grammar books to help improve your language, but remember to think outside the box. If you take advantage of the Internet and your local environment, you will reach your language learning goals faster.