Tips for Language Learning while Abroad

Here it is, as promised 🙂 My best tips for making sure you make the most of you year abroad and get as fluent as possible. I’ve also checked some of the things my own uni recommended to add further suggestions, but mostly these are my personal recommendations and things I’ve found have helped me! You can totally reject this if it doesn’t work for you, everyone works differently. I’m a visual and kinesthetic learner before an aural learner – which means that I need lots of visual information and I also need to do or practice the language / grammar for it to actually go into my brain. Just listening isn’t enough. So here’s tip number one:

  1. Find out what kind of learner you are. This is really important because it will change the way you revise and it will help you memorise vocab and grammar easier. You can take free tests online, just Google it 😉 There are about 4 types, Kinesthetic, Aural, Visual and then Traditional (I think).
  2. Say ‘yes’ a lot! People will offer you things, to go shopping, to go see a movie, etc. Just say yes. It’s all good experience and you’ll learn something about the culture from these.
  3. Stay with a family/Spanish friends who speak only/mostly Spanish/whatever your target language is. This way you wake up speaking the language, and go to bed speaking the language. You’ll get so much more out of it, trust me. And if the family has kids, this is a good way of getting practice using different registers – speaking more politely to grandparents whereas with kids you can usually be more informal.
  4. Go over difficult areas of grammar that you notice yourself struggling with. Don’t just leave them and hope they go away! I still go over the past tenses in Spanish and the subjunctive… and ser and estar still catch me out occasionally!! Just because you’re in the country doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll immediately become bad-ass at grammar, so make sure you try and do some exercises / revision a few times a week. Nothing intensive. If you can, take a course at a local uni.
  5. Write down new vocabulary – no excuses! I keep lists of new vocab, and as I mentioned in my last post, we’ve actually stuck up some pieces of blank paper in the kitchen with all of our names on so we can write down new words in English/Spanish and then go over them together at meal times. This is great for kids, but to be honest it works for adults too.
  6. You’re gonna love this one! Watch TV! and films… but in the target language obviously. If possible, use subtitles in that language too instead of in your native language, if you need it that is! But often programs have actors speaking clearly and with good grammar. I watched an episode of El Ministerio del Tiempo last night and it was great! I recommend the site rtve.es for series and news etc. for Spanish.
  7. Read. If you can, get your hands on a novel, maybe one you’ve read before so you know what happens, but trust me, this really helped not only to widen my vocabulary but also to get used to ways of saying things, set phrases/idioms, and the grammar structures. I read the Fault in Our Stars (Bajo la misma estrella) only in Spanish, I’ve also read Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets (Harry Potter y la cámara secreta), The Last Song (La última canción) and the Hunger Games (book one – Los juegos del hambre) in Spanish, and am currently reading Gone Girl (Perdida). I haven’t managed to get my hands on a Russian novel yet but I’m probably going to try and get the first Harry Potter on my kindle! [*Fun fact, in Russian they sometimes pronounce the ‘H’ sound (х) as a hard G sound like in gutter (г), so Harry Potter is Gary Potter to Russians (Гарpи Поттер), but for us English lot at least this makes it take on a whole different meaning! 😉 ]
  8. Do things that scare you – go for a train journey somewhere so that you have to buy tickets, go to the cinema or theatre, etc. These experiences will bring you into contact with people who don’t speak English/ your native language and will help you use what you have on the spot. 

So there you go – my 8 pieces of advice for helping you use and develop your language on your year abroad. Hope this helps! 

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1st few days in Madrid (ever!)

I’m here!

It’s really cool here actually – well, not cool, it’s hot! Like 33 or so degrees C every day hot. But I’ll take that! I’m already getting a bit of a tan on, and my hair is starting to turn ginger in the sun as it tends to do…

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Just chillin’ with Velazquez outside one of the entrances to El Prado – the famous museum/gallery. 

So for those who are new to my blog, HELLO! I’m a student at Exeter University in the UK, studying Spanish and Russian, and I am currently on my year abroad! I found out about Family and Aupair through my university and applied through them to work as an Au Pair this summer, and so for the next 2 months I am living in Madrid, practising my Spanish and trying desperately to tan in the mean time. And of course, revising some Russian before I fly out to St Petersburg in September.

The family I’m staying with are all lovely. They have a little girl who I will be looking after before and after school in June, and then all day every day in July when her school breaks up for the summer. There’s a communal pool here where they live, and also a communal gym. It’s really sunny and beautiful, and although Catalunya (Figueres) will always have a piece of my heart, Madrid is also now one of my favourite places. On Sunday, my family kindly showed me around the city centre, avoiding the parades for the Real Madrid victory against Italy (Juventus) on Saturday night before, which we went to watch at a friends’ house a few blocks away. It was really fun and we ate hot dogs / I had a soy burger and ALL the olives oh my days!! I’m so glad that I discovered that I like olives last summer because I’m definitely eating my fill of the good stuff here.

I’m hoping to meet up with some other au pairs while I’m here in the next week or so to make some new friends and see a bit more of my new home, and of course, to take more pictures!! I’ll insert a few from last Sunday here.

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No idea whether this is an important work of art or not but I thought I’d take a picture anyway 🙂

I think that because the family has been so kind and welcoming, I don’t feel homesick at all, so I’ve actually not messaged home all that much. In fact, my mum has had to message me a couple of times! So this is a good sign, especially as last summer I had a not-so-amazing au pair experience in August.

I have a little bedroom with a desk and wardrobe all to myself. It’s honestly so nice here I feel like my descriptions are not doing it justice. For now, because the little girl I’m looking after is so young, I’m mostly just teaching her some vocab here and there, things like ‘scooter’ and ‘pool noodle’ etc. and in the kitchen we’ve stuck some blank pieces of paper up so we can write down new words and then go over them at meal times. The parents have one too and are constantly asking me what something means in English or how to say things. And obviously I do the same but in Spanish. I’ve caught myself thinking in Spanish a lot more, and I know that by the time I go home in July it’s going to be hard to switch back! That’s definitely a big positive thing about living with a family in Spain. You have to speak Spanish from the moment you get up to the moment you go to bed. All day. It’s the best way to improve, and you learn a lot of functional and conversational stuff. I think I’ll have to write a post with tips about how to make sure you make the most of your year abroad and learn as much as you can vocab/grammar/language wise.

But anyway, my year abroad has officially begun and all is going well, so I’m happy 🙂 This week, I’m free to do what I want during the day, so I tend to do some Russian revision and more of my TEFL course, go to the little gym and speak as much Spanish as possible! Oh, and sun bathe 😉

That’s it for now… but I’m going to aim to at least post once a week if not more! I’ll try and post some pictures of the family once I know that it’s ok to do so… but I want to respect their privacy if that’s what they want. ‘Til next time!