Ever hear the phrase “use it or lose it?” Well, when it comes to language skills, it’s true. Although knowledge is something you can never be robbed of, the language connections you worked so hard to make while studying abroad can slowly begin to dissipate when you don’t continuously exercise them – especially for those in the beginning stages of language acquisition.
There is scientific evidence that points to biology and our need for social interaction to influence our ability to develop language. That being said, it’s much easier to develop Spanish language skills when you’re immersed in a culture in which the native language is Spanish. While studying abroad in Latin America, you’re more dependent on the Spanish language to survive; whether you’re simply buying groceries at the supermarket or getting the your bus ticket to your favorite beach in Costa Rica. But how do you continue to exercise and develop those newly acquired language skills once you go back home?
Seek a Language Club
Language exchange clubs or social events take place in many large cities around the world. If your hometown is famous for hosting international tourists, you will likely find a language exchange social hosted at a popular venue. The best option would be to find a partner whose native language is Spanish, but who’s learning English as a second language. Take 30 minutes to speak in English, and another 30 to speak in Spanish.
Remember, you want to learn, so it’s important your new language exchange partner understands your feelings won’t be hurt if they correct you. You should be aiming to sharpen and develop your vocabulary, grammar, and pronunciation. If you want to practice your reading and writing, in addition to speaking and listening, you can suggest a letter writing homework assignment. Every time you meet up, you can exchange letters and responses from the previous time.
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Take Advantage of Netflix
When has watching TV ever been beneficial? When you’re learning a new language, that’s when. Turn your Netflix account into full on language practice. Watching TV shows and films in your new language will help to exercise language input – the ability to understand what’s being said in your new language.
Since fluent speech can be a bit too fast for those newly introduced to a foreign language, choose the proper programs for you. If you’re a completely basic speaker, but want to practice using TV shows, grab your baby niece, nephew, or neighbor and watch cartoons made specifically for younger children, but in Spanish. Essentially, your level is compatible to that of a young native child, so it’ll be the perfect pace to continue learning.
No matter your level, you can add the subtitles to further practice your reading and comprehension. For many language learners, reading input can be easier than verbal input. Combining the two can help your brain to associate written words with its correct pronunciation.
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Enroll in Online Courses
Online courses allow you to continue your lessons remotely, so you don’t have any opportunity to lose what you learned while abroad. If took Spanish lessons with us in Antigua, Guatemala, you could request to continue with the same teacher. The benefit to this is that your teacher is already familiar with your learning style and level. They can help to hone in on where you need improvement and give you feedback on your progress since your first meeting.
If you don’t end up with the same teacher, you’ll still benefit with online classes by having a professional to practice with when you want. The accessibility of practicing online lets you study at your own pace whenever you’re available. You also have the added benefit of using interactive lesson plans and multimedia tools when you need them.
Choose Spanish Podcasts
Just like watching TV, listening to podcasts is one of the easiest ways to maintain your language skills. There are so many podcasts out there to choose from, free of charge. Whether you’re interested in fashion, business, comedy, current events – whatever! There’s something for everyone.
To expand your practice while listening to podcasts, stop the recording if you come across a word or phrase, you’re unfamiliar with. Look up its meaning and then repeat the word or phrase several times. You can make sure of pronunciation by playing it back as many times as needed. If you were a flashcard student, make sure to add any new words to your flashcards and practice on your downtime.
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Plan Your Next Trip
Immersion, immersion, immersion. It’s really the key to becoming a fluent foreign language speaker. There’s no better way to force yourself to practice language than by needing to find shelter, food, and toilet in a foreign country. If you’re set on really knowing Spanish, choose to base your future travels in Spanish speaking countries before moving on. Check out the country jumper program that allows you to move through several Latin American countries for an extended trip abroad.
Your language learning shouldn’t stop just because you’re back home. If it does, then what was the point of spending all those weeks, even months, learning this new language? Continuing to expand your language ability can be as simple as turning on the TV or making time to speak with native friends. Be intentional about your desire to grow your language skills, even if it means making a schedule of when and how you will practice for the week.