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!

End of term mess and Year Abroad preparation! Busy life…

March. Already?! It’ll be Easter soon and I’ll be home again revising for my exams. And preparing even more fervently for my year abroad… Life never stops when you’re a student! It’s kind of good though in a way because it never gets boring… every week is different and every day is different. Gotta think of those positives 🙂

I think I might have mentioned that my grandparents came down this week gone and they totally spoiled me rotten! We went to Ask Italian and Zizzi’s for a meal and they even bought me my weekly shop – it was so kind and I feel so happy to have seen most of my family in the space of one week.

 

 

There’s nothing like family to get you back on track and re-align your perspective when everything gets a bit stressful! A couple of weeks ago I was flooded by formatives (and not much has changed to be honest) but I was getting really down, so I decided that I needed to get away from it all. Other people I know go back home more regularly (unless they are international students) but this is the first time I’ve managed to go home for a weekend when it’s not someone’s birthday or something. It felt good. I slept in my own room – ate meals with my family instead of scoffing something quickly before a lecture… watched films, laughed and talked. These things mean a lot to me, and once I got back Sunday evening I can’t tell you how much calmer I felt.

But now I need to get my head down and work hard again – I know I go on about this a fair amount but hard work pays off (usually! – I got a good mark in both of the formatives I handed in before I went home). And this term all of my module assessments are before the holidays – which is a good thing in a way because although these next few weeks will be tense, at least I’ll have more time over my holiday to revise for my most important exams and do some work and complete my TEFL course. It just means that I now have to somehow fit all of the reading and preparation I would have had more time for during the holidays (like I did at Christmas) into my term time – so around all of my lectures and other homeworks etc. And formatives. It’s a joke – I handed one in yesterday late at night and that same day I’d been given 3 more for next week! It’s exhausting!

I managed to get onto a TEFL (Teach English as a Foreign Language) course using a coupon code so I got it cheaply and it’s just another qualification you can put on your CV so you can teach English when you go abroad. I’m hoping I have time for it now – I know it’s the holidays and I’ll ‘have more time’ but I’m one of those people that fills her holidays up so much they can sometimes not be a holiday anymore. The course is 150 hours, and I have to fit working (Deliveroo and potentially childminding), studying, and relaxing and having a real break around this. Wish me luck….

It’s going to be useful having TEFL because although I can’t really work in Russia (and get paid) on a student visa, you can kind of get away with quietly teaching English on the side, and having a qualification will help recommend you. It also gives you ideas – so if you are a language student like me and are thinking about working a bit whilst going abroad, then maybe consider doing this.

Russia. Russia, Russia, Russia. I’ve heard so many scary stories about visas, accommodation, lecturers at the uni… I’m going to try and just get it all done but it seems so huge. All the things you have to get and stuff – and all the money I’m going to need to save. It’s in these moments where I ask myself why? Why am I doing this? Why didn’t I just pick Italian, or French, or German. Something easier. Something safer.

Because… that would have been so boring! While it’s a big deal and can be stressful, I am happy with my choice. It might not make sense to all of you, but I’m doing something really different and that sets me apart a bit. And given the current tensions around the world, some initiated by Russia and some encouraged by it, I think it’s actually going to be quite useful to be able to speak Russian right now. Am I right?

We have one more preparation session this coming Wednesday to talk about things, and then it’s up to us. Well, mostly, because you can’t really apply for a visa or anything until you have an invitation from the uni you’ve applied to, and while this is pretty much guaranteed (surprisingly there isn’t a lot of competition to go to Russian unis), you could receive this up to 10 days before you need to get on your plane and fly out there – so we’ve been told we can’t leave the country in August. Maybe I’ll do a post that goes into it in more detail, and I’ll probably blog it as it happens this summer for anyone else thinking about going to Russia who wants to know more about the process.

So yeah – it’s really happening now. Scary right? I’ve been writing about it for 2 years and now it’s actually happening. We’re being prepped on the culture and everything, but I don’t think any of it will really prepare us for what it’s truly going to be like. The culture shock and everything. I shouldn’t really be that worried; after all, I moved to Spain and lived there for a couple of years when I was eight, and back then I didn’t know any Spanish or Catalan at all before going, so at least for Russia I’ll know a little bit of Russian beforehand. But this time I’m moving out there alone. And, to be quite honest… My vocab and grammar still need some work.

It’s interesting because the other day we were learning about Russian traditions re flowers – if you give someone flowers, they mustn’t be yellow, because the colour means ‘treason’ or ‘treachery’. Red flowers mean bravery and victory and are used on Victory Day and given to men on their birthdays. White flowers mean purity. And if you give flowers, you can’t give an even number, because an even number is for funerals, so it has to be an odd number more than 3 – so 3, 5, 7 etc.

Maybe I’ll do a post on that too. I think for now I’ll just post whenever I can snatch some time, because I’m not kidding when I say it’s really busy at my end!

I’d be interested to know if you or your family have any traditions… comment down below!

 

 

An answer to prayer…

So my last blog was a bit more serious than my normal posts… but I was being real and honest – life isn’t always hunky dory! 

This week has gone so much better and I’ve been ploughing my way through my work so that I can do fun things this weekend 🙂 it’s one of my friends’ 20th birthday and I need to get her present tomorrow, and it’ll be another friends birthday next weekend so I am probably going to look for something for her as well. I’m also about to run out of paper… a vital necessity as a student! 

I love my weekends because I get to be more chilled and do things at my own pace 🙂 

I’m in love with autumn right now and all of the colours. As always here are some pics I’ve snapped through the week:


Mmm all the feels… apparently it’s snowing else where in the UK right now… but that hasn’t reached Exeter yet (even though it’s 4 degrees C outside right now!).

My year abroad plans are moving along and even the second round of this group project we have to do in Spanish is going quicker than I thought which is a complete relief. Even my friends’ depression is lifting, and she’s so much happier this week (an answer to prayer – God has literally turned that situation around and it’s worked out so well.) 

I have to admit at the start of the week I wasn’t in such a happy place – but then last weekend I got locked out of my room when the reception staff weren’t in and had to ring the out of hours security to get let back in (you use a fob but I left it in my room to put something in the kitchen and forgot to put my door on the latch so it closed on me!!) you get fined £30 for ringing the out of hours people so it was very frustrating especially as I’m juggling two jobs right now so money is a bit irregular. Also, is it just me or have priced in Aldi gone up? Please tell me this is cos it’s winter and not because of Brexit?? 

Anyway… things are coming to an end and it’s an answer to prayer because I was freaking out about everything I had to do and get through this week. I’m feeling encouraged…. and I hope that if you read this you’ll feel encouraged too. Sometimes we have bad days, or weeks or even months but that’s all they are – short periods of time which will pass. It’s all about how you handle it. If you let it get you down too much and give up all hope of getting through, it’ll just drown you. But if you hold on and try and trust that something will come of it and the storm will pass, you’ll come out stronger and realise that there was nothing to worry about really. 

Something I’m learning anyway! I’ll update on my Year Abroad plans soon when they are more concrete – it should be interesting for you all to follow my adventures in Spain and Russia! 

The Year Abroad madness begins!

Hello again – golly I need to be more regular with my posts huh?

Here are some pictures taken outside my accommodation one morning this week when it was really misty… we live right by the railway line which I think is so cool because you can watch trains go by!

I think the mist makes it look really atmospheric

I messed around with a grunge filter on this pic to make it look creepier!


Sorry I’m always aware that I go off on a tangent before I actually talk about anything to do with uni or whatever. Oops! So as the title suggests I’m planning my year abroad. I have to have chosen and planned it all by December the 9th and I can’t change it after that – the part involving me going to Russia anyway. So the pressure is on (on top of everything else!)

Right now I’m curled up on my bed having a rest because my group has finally finished its website ready for the presentations we have to do today and tomorrow! I was heavily involved in the editing so I feel like I need the break. I’m also packing before heading home tomorrow for reading week and my dad’s birthday bash on Saturday.

But yeah – where do I even start with the Year Abroad thing? I know I want to go to Russia and study – I will take all the help I can get with the grammar!!! It tends to work out that you have to study anyway because it’s tricky to get work and then get Russian companies etc to sign the paper work saying they’ll take full responsibility for you so internships are usually off the charts. And actually I kind of want to study cos I want to meet people my own age and make friends that way!

I will need a visa and I also have to be tested for HIV apparently… there might be other vaccinations I need too so I’m not looking forward to those!

And although I really want to visit St. Petersburg and Moscow they are more expensive to live in so I might go elsewhere….

You see what I mean… so much to decide – and I need to look at flight costs, insurance and scholarships and things to help get a rough idea of how much I need to save! It’s a lot of work but I hope it’ll be worth it.

Being vegan in Russia will be interesting – I think they aren’t as aware of this kind of thing and meat dairy and eggs and fish are a big part of their diet – especially in the winter when the temperature is -20 degrees Celsius! But from reading other blogs and things I think I can manage it – you can usually get potatoes and beans and nuts and veggies everywhere! And in big cities there will be supermarkets selling stuff too so fingers crossed! I will probably blog while I’m away as it’s recommended to try and keep touch with your writing and things so watch this space if you’ve ever wondered what it must be like to live in Russia – especially right now with the tensions and things.

Life is generally going well at the moment despite lots of work (I know I’m always going on about it but seriously the struggle is real!) and a couple of formative assessments due the week I get back from reading week (so the week after next). Formatices dont count (might have mentioned this before) but they are good indicators of where you’re at and what areas you should work on before the summative exams which do count. So I try and do my best in them, and this year I’ve managed to read a lot more so I feel like I can do this – so pumped! Just as long as my family don’t all try and drag me out to various events then I’ll have time to do this stuff!!

Yesterday I made potstickers and here is a picture to prove it!

They didn’t turn out as good as I’d hoped but I thought it was worth a try making them 🙂 that red stuff is tomato purée which I use like ketchup because I find ketchup is too sweet (and more expensive). I’m one of those people that likes more bitter/blander tastes (except when it comes to ripe bananas made into ice cream or medjoul dates!!) but I will pick a green granny smith apple any day or have black coffee or 90% cocoa chocolate any day hands down. In my opinion tomato purée is just as delicious and my fave go to meal is beans, rice and tomato purée mixed together when I’m in a hurry or need to pack my lunch!

I made an aubergine curry recipe that I’ll have to share with you at some point soon as well 🙂 Actually that’s what I’m all full up on right now, along with the leftover filling for my pot stickers – it was made from cabbage, carrot, mushrooms, garlic, onion and tahini and ginger. It’s a good combo and it meant I had a kind of salad already prepped so I just had that with my main meal – rice and the curry sauce!!

But anyway, I guess I need to start saving because visas are about £100 and I have no idea how much flights to Russia will cost!! I also need to plan if I want to go to Spain/South America during the summer before or after Russia (I think I’ll need it after surviving the winter months in Россия!!

So yeah lots of planning and dreaming. ‘Til next time 😉 пока пока!