Regardless of whether you’ve taken 9 semesters of French or even spent 6 months in China, becoming fluent in a foreign language doesn’t just happen because you’re studying abroad. It takes work, and a lot of work at that. Many students like to think that the language will simply soak in and, voila!, one morning they wake up and they’re parle-ing like a true Parisienne. But in order to truly be comfortable with a second or third language, you have to be the language; you have to live the language. To help, here is a quick guide to (mostly) assured fluency when studying abroad…
1. If you have a host family, ask them to speak no English with you. This will force you to converse with the people you’re living with and will allow you to be immersed during meal times. (I thought my host family didn’t speak a word of English, only to find out 5 months later that indeed they were quite fluent, but didn’t want me to use them as a crutch.)
2. Try to take at least one or two full classes that are taught and attended by local students and teachers. It will be very difficult, and you might not know what is going on for a while, but it will teach you to think in that language.
3. Read. This is especially helpful if you are having difficulty hearing the difference between distinct words. Read a book that you know, like Harry Potter or The Lord of the Rings, translated into the language you’re trying to learn. You already know what is going on and so it will be easier to follow along.
4. Get to know the pop culture of your area. Download their music to your ipod and start watching their sitcoms and trashy dramas. You can get your Desperate Housewives fix and learn German at the same time.
5. But most importantly, and I mean this in all sincerity, date someone who is from the town you’re living in. Of all the advice I’ve ever been given, surely this was the main reason that I am bi-lingual. First of all, what better way to experience the local culture than with a foreign girl/boy on your arm? They will show how to really experience Buenos Aires, if you know what I mean. Second of all, you will probably end up spending the majority of your free time with this person. This is important because it means that you will not be hanging out with Americans and therefore not speaking English. Who goes all the way to Egypt to date an American? This is a NO-NO. If you date an American while abroad, you can kiss all of those dreams of fluency good-bye. This has nothing to do with them being American, but rather that they speak English, and so you will spend most of your time speaking such.
All in all, it takes time and patience to acquire a whole different tongue. Spend as much time as you can reading, listening, breathing (and maybe kissing) that language and you will pick it up faster than you did in that Chinese class you took twice a week.
Ciao et Bon Chance!