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! 

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!

Exams and year abroad plans

Why hello there….

You guys… I’m sorry I’ve not posted in forever, life has been so hectic and over Easter I just needed the break to clear my head and get ready for my final exams (eek!).

Yup, I have 5 exams… most people only have 2 or 3. But no, language students get more. I’ve now taken 4 of those 5 exams, the last one is on the 25th, so think of me if you can between about 9.30am-11.30am!!

Aside from the fact that I’m busy cramming and revising my socks off, I’m also madly applying to work as an au pair in Spain this summer before Russia in September. I think I possibly mentioned plans to go to Mexico in a previous post, if not, then briefly; I was considering going to Mexico this summer but the plans never got off the ground, mainly due to the cost of flights etc. and how it was kinda unwise to spend so much money on that when I needed to pay for my visa and insurance etc for Russia.

Basically, I have Russia on the brain right now so be warned, I will be talking about it A LOT as of now. Hopefully you’re all interested anyway!

OK so I’ve bought my insurance, paid my deposit and admin fees…. so I am officially GOING. Which is kind of scary when you think about how a year ago it felt so far away and downright impossible.

I’m working my socks off in the Ram trying to pay for various flights and such, so that means balancing work with revision. So yeah, that’s why I’ve not been writing in a long time. I’ve been so busy! Yesterday the fire alarm went off while I was in the Ram kitchen and we all had to evacuate… something about oil leaking into the cellar and setting the alarm off. I don’t know exactly. But it was pretty exciting!

I’ve had some pretty good times meeting up with friends – went round to one friend’s house for tea and a movie the other night which was lush… she always cooks amazing food and it’s so much fun to hang out and chill. We watched The Pacifier with Vin Diesel – funny film which I used to watch a lot as a kid….

So yeah sorry this is a brief update I’m sending out there into the world… not sure if any of you remember me I haven’t posted in SO LONG. I’ll try and post more often and the plan is to post a lot while I’m on my year abroad to help future language students out.

So ’til my next post – have a great rest-of-the-week!!

 

Living the Life.

Hey hey hey, it’s the weekend again! 🙂

I had the most amazing and at the same time bizarre day yesterday, seriously. OK, more like in the evening. I went for Russian food with my friend Josie (the 4th year Russian student I met at Grace church when I first went). It was amazing! We started with some Borsch [борш]: cabbage, beetroot and potato soup. Yum. Normally it has beef in it but she didn’t add any to make it more budget friendly and also to make it into more of a starter. It was great anyway. We had Smetana (Sour Cream) to add to it. Makes me laugh every time because Smetana is a composer as well (Music jokes). Then for our main course we had this thing called Голубцы (“Galubtsee”) which were these delicious pork and white rice filled cabbage leaves all rolled up, and Гречка (“grechka”) which is buckwheat. Trust me it was divine!

Part of me was gutted at the same time though because my flatmates went to Zizzis – it was a last minute decision that they made this afternoon whereas I’d already accepted Josie’s offer a week ago. Gosh that leads me to another point… NUS extra cards are a nightmare. They say they’ll give you money off – for example, 40% off at Zizzis. But then you read the small print. Only 40% off on Mondays and Tuesdays, 20% off on Wednesdays and Thursdays, and it isn’t valid at the weekend when you would want to go out anyway. So in a way, I’m not too bothered about not spending a silly amount of money going out. Mixed up feelings.

I almost went out clubbing last night. It was a break dance social at Unit 1 and we would have all had to dance in the middle and take a turn, even if it was just to do one simple move. It’s to overcome our fear and increase confidence.Except I ate so much Russian food that; best case scenario I would have got a stitch, worse case scenario, I would have generously shared my Russian food with the club. Not nice. Also, I discovered quite late that I’d forgotten my Unit 1 Card so I’d have had to have paid to get in, but also I’d left my purse (which has my Unit 1 and ID card in it) so the odds were kind of against my going, which was a shame because I was so psyched up for it.

When I got back, I was going up the stairs in F block to my flat (F3 – aka floor 3) and I met this guy from F2 on the stairs. He was probably very drunk, but he kept asking my name and then he invited me into F2. We sat in the kitchen and had the most bizarre conversation. He said he was hungry and wanted me to help him order a Dominoes, but I was like, ‘I’m good I’m so full’ (from the Russian food feast I’d had a few hours before!). He asked me out 3 times as well…. I doubt he remembers our conversation today! It got to the point though where I had to text Ellen to ring me and pretend she needed me to help her with her essay (which she was still awake doing at 1am for some reason) and she obliged marvelously, acting all stroppy 🙂 I managed to get away in the end, and Ellen let me in upstairs. She was chuckling about how everyone else in my flat, the party flat, had gone to bed early, and it just happened to be on this night I was the one that came back at one in the morning!

I have so much work it’s unreal – although (feeling quite proud), I managed to get through a ton of it on Thursday and Friday, so hopefully I can get through some more of it this weekend ready for week 4. I have a slight dilemma in that I have to complete an electronic test on what I’ve done in Russian so far and I have no Russian keyboard. I’ll have to try and do it on my phone I suppose. I have more formative assessments in Spanish – the first one was a translation from a García Marquez novel I believe. I also have to try and submit one through the uni’s complicated BART submission system during reading week (week 6). We’re told that if we don’t submit before 10am on the day of the deadline they won’t mark it. Even if it’s submitted 1 second past 10am.

I’ve finally got round to getting some washing done!! Weyhey 🙂 Everything was collecting in the basket this week and I had enough today – I put my foot down! The great thing is mum sent me a drying rack so I can hang my clothes out to dry in my room and save money on a tumble dryer (£1:30). The washing machines are so expensive (£2.60) – and if you don’t have exact change then they don’t give you change back! Plus, the machines only accept any coin above 10p so that makes it even harder to get the exact amount. I had to put 20p in when I didn’t have a 10p once and it took 10p off me. Daylight. Robbery.

Although today I went to the washing machines in a different block and it was only £2.50. Bargain 😉

Today I’ve done a super mini shop at Aldi, although I couldn’t resist buying the cutest mini pumpkin ever in the mixed squash section. 

 

My little munchkin 🙂

  
 I also bought what I believe to be a spaghetti squash – so watch this space there might be a tutorial of how to make it coming up soon!

I went for a run today with Ellen. This is actually a big deal for me – I haven’t run for 4 months or so because during my exam period my hamstring kept getting inflamed after running for more than 10 minutes, and my knees hurt (although this is probably a side effect from the intensive rowing as well). But we ran for about 20-25 minutes and my legs feel fine! So there is hope! Especially as a few of the lads in my flat signed us all up to run a 15k mud run in March next year without telling us. It isn’t cheap either!

We’ve run out of loo role again in the flat – rationing has become desperate! So me and Fran are probably going to get some when we head into town once my washing is done today. I intend to get a much earlier night tonight I can tell you. Even if it means using ear plugs again!

So yeah – there’s my update for now! Watch this space for some more recipes 😉 I made some great applesauce this morning!