The Language Tutor: Simple Tricks for Summer Language Practice

Posted by Andrew Jungclaus on 7/30/14 10:42 AM

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Study abroad isn't for everyone. Fortunately, it's not the only way to learn a foreign language.

With only a month of summer vacation left on the calendar, most students are probably beginning to hear back on their class schedules for the coming year.  And regardless of your grade level, new language classes can be one of the most intimidating additions to the course list—and potential threats to your GPA.  One of the easiest ways to cut down on language class stress is to head into that first day prepared, and there are plenty of painless ways to get a head start on foreign language practice.

Whether you’re looking forward to starting Spanish or French for the first time or you know that last year’s German or Latin class didn’t go perfectly, summer is the time to practice the basics and make sure that you’ve set yourself a firm foundation.  I’m typically a German or Spanish tutor, but the following language acquisition tips have helped all my students in New York and online.  By adding a few of these foreign language tricks into your everyday routine, you’ll dramatically increase your practicing time and find yourself that much more prepared for the first day back.

Turn on the subtitles

Try turning the movie subtitles onto Spanish, Chinese, or whatever language you’re trying to brush up on.  Conversely, you could change the dubbing into a foreign language and let the subtitles run in English.  These tricks will exercise different parts of your brain, so see which one is more enjoyable for you.  In the same mode, you could also spend some time each day with a foreign language newspaper, TV channel, or radio station.  For instance, I listen to the news on Deutsche Welle in the morning to keep my German up to snuff.

Carry a dictionary

Whether it’s a pocket dictionary or an iPhone app (just try searching – there are hundreds for free), it’s important to be able to look something up.  If you’re at the grocery store and wish you could remember the word for “apple” in French, if you’re at the beach and it’s bothering you that you can’t recall how they say “sunscreen” in Spanish – it will help you so much to have easy access to this kind of word-for-word translation.  Make it simple for yourself, and then once you have the new words…

Use them a lot

As soon as you look something up, cement it in your memory through repeated reinforcement.  Annoy your parents by only referring to the jugo in the refrigerator.  Tell your friends you’ll meet them at the Kino at 8 for a movie.  The trick here is that the more you use a word immediately after learning it, the higher the chances are that it will stick.

Change the settings on your phone or computer

This is another big one, but has the potential to get annoying.  One of my friends insists on using the Spanish language turn-by-turn directions on his phone to help him with language retention.  I also know people who’ve changed their computer settings to Japanese to help them with reading kanji better.  Try it for a day or two – phone and computer prompts can help you learn a lot of useful, everyday language, but if it starts to get in the way, these things are very easy to reverse. 

And finally, make it fun

This is the only way that all your language work will be sure to stick.  If you’re constantly being interested, you’ll always want to learn.  When I’m working privately with a high school student, I ask them to set a fun goal for themselves – something like being able to order dinner in Spanish, or being able to understand the basic plot of a German film without the subtitles.  These are the types of things that will keep you motivated.  Plus they’re great examples of real-life applications of these skills you’re learning. 

Just remember that learning a language is all about practice, and the best way to do that is through speaking with another person.  Try some of these little changes to your everyday life, and if you feel in need of some guidance, feel free to get in touch with one of our highly qualified private language tutors in New York, Boston, or online. 


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Tags: language learning, summer activities