Language Learning (and Life) Advice

Here at the Language Resource Center, we realize the winter semester has ended and it’s much too soon to be thinking about the coming fall. However, there is at least one subject that you might not want to forget about so soon– your language skills!

The LRC’s Student Advisory Board sat down together at the end of term to brainstorm some advice for retaining languages over the summer, starting a new language (especially for you incoming freshmen!), and practicing in new ways for upper level learners. Below are some great suggestions that these language students came up with.

Advice for the summer:

  • Learning outside of the classroom is a great way to learn about the culture of your language. Resources like foreign news clips and books can be your best friend. (Alex)
  • Remember that class cannot teach you all the vocab or skills that you really need to get around in other countries. Spend some time with non-class resources for better practice. (Todd)
  • Use Duolingo! (Alex)
  • Challenge yourself– listen to some slow news or a podcast or watch a movie without subtitles. You could even try to read some articles or a book without using a dictionary then go back with a translation and check how well you understood it. (Valeriya)
  • There’s always something new to study or listen to or read in your language. One trick for hands on practice is to change your internet and phone settings to be in your new language. (Cathy)

Advice for learning a new language:

  • “Learning” a language takes a LOT of time– and you are never really done learning it. (Todd)
  • Be realistic in your expectations of your language skills. Hitting a brick wall because you see someone excelling faster happens, but it’s better to understand that it’s a process that takes time and effort. (Kendall)
  • Worrying about succeeding in the next level of courses is completely normal but you can lessen that anxiety by getting together with others in your class or friends learning the same language! There are no grades and no worries. (Kendall)
  • It will be much more time consuming to put out the effort of writing an essay in your new language, but it is absolutely worth it. Writing an essay in English then translating is useless. (Valeriya)
  • You may feel like you are hitting a wall and should be understanding everything, and  and wanting to quit is understandable, but you have to keep at it! It’s worth it! (Julie)

Advice for incoming students:

  • Try to go to office hours at least once a week. The best way to learn a language is to practice it, so go talk to your professors– it doesn’t even have to be about class. Just go say hello! Start a conversation! (Alex)
  • If professors make you nervous, find an upper level student to chat with. Work at your speaking skills with them, no matter how long it takes you to get through a sentence. (Valeriya)
  • Don’t expect to be perfect. You may have come to this school having been the best in your high school, but there is no finish line or “best” in languages. (Jenny)
  • Don’t be afraid of sounding foolish. You will mess up and that’s okay; it will happen. To open you mouth and use it, to immerse yourself and try things is more important than getting it perfect. (Valeriya)

Advice for upper level learners:

  • It can be challenging to find upper level foreign language books in the US, but you can use your amazon account to log into foreign amazon sites and find new resources that way. (Todd)
  • It’s not about communicating your own culture through direct translation. True fluency comes from thinking in that language through that culture to express ideas. (Cathy)
  • Past the 250 level or so, your grade is based not on fluency or accuracy but effort and participation. (Valeriya)
  • Grades are just an empirical metric for your progress; they do not entirely sum up your abilities. Those skill measurements can be a great help though– getting a certification or something similar can be incredibly useful in job hunts. (Todd)
  • Going outside of your textbook and your classroom is incredibly important. Generating knowledge as opposed to regurgitating what you’ve been told is the ultimate sign of deeper understanding. (Valeriya)

We hope that some of this advice is helpful to you and we’d love to hear your own tricks and tips for keeping up those language skills! Share your own advice with us in the comments below, and happy learning!


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