LANGUAGE STUDENTS Making the most of your year abroad

by Meryl Hanmer

Embarking on your year abroad is both daunting and exhilarating in equal measures. It is without doubt the most exhilarating fifteen months of my life as I hopped from city to city, country to country and yet was also the most stressful, struggling with a lost passport and terrorist attacks! For language students, the year abroad is not simply a chance to party abroad, but an essential element in language mastery. From ‘helpful’ locals who want to speak English, to falling into the trap of making too many British friends, sometimes it can be hard to find opportunities to speak your target language. After spending fifteen months abroad myself and doing three different Erasmus programmes in Paris, Valencia and Brussels these are my tips on how to fully benefit from your time abroad.

Do a placement that involves the target language
Although it may sound obvious, I know far too many who spent their year abroad working in English speaking jobs. When trying to improve your language proficiency you need to take every opportunity to speak the target language and reject any chance to speak your native tongue. Working / studying in the target language helps ensure maximum immersion in the language.

Avoid the ‘Erasmus’ crowd
As an international student, it is all too easy to spend all your time with the ‘international crowd’. Although it is important to have a few friends who are in the same boat as you being away from home so that you can offer each other support when you’re struggling, it is imperative to make friends with native speakers with whom you are forced to speak the target language.

Flat share with native students
Typically, you are going to see your flat mates at some point each day and so by ensuring the lingua franca is your target language you are ensuring at least some conversation practice every day. It is in everyday living situations that you find your language is most tested, but in my experience, it’s the quickest way to see improvement.

Join local activities
In Spain, I was inundated with opportunities of salsa classes, cooking classes and beach parties. All of which gave me the perfect chance to meet other people with whom I could converse socially in my target language whilst experiencing local culture.

Above all else, be proactive!
As a native English speaker, it is far too easy to fall into the trap of only speaking English, especially when so many people are eager to practice with you. From my experience, there are two ways to handle this: first, either straight out say ‘please can we not speak English, I am here to learn the local language’, or come to the compromise of splitting time between English and your target language so that you both have the chance to learn and practice.

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