Learning a language at university [9 tips]

Sep 17, 2020

At university, you might find yourself with a lot of free time on your hands. If you are looking for a rewarding hobby, you can try learning a language.

Speaking a second language is a gateway into new cultures and a great way to stand out on the job market after you graduate. Here are some tips for learning a language at university that make the process fun and effective.

#1: Online Resources

The internet has a vast amount of free resources to help you learn languages. There are many apps and online language learning tools such as Memrise and TripLingo

These resources usually offer free and paid versions with differing amounts of exercises and languages to learn. However, the free versions are often helpful with learning European languages to a competent degree.

One of the most popular and well-known is the app Duolingo, it is easy to use and offers lessons in many languages from French to Hebrew.

You should add to your online learning by doing some reading and writing exercises. You can go to eBay or Amazon to look for some cheap exercise books.

For free books, you can always scout out your university library to see if they have any useful resources, like foreign language dictionaries or periodicals.

#2: Join a free language course at university

Face to face learning where you can practice speaking and listening is more productive than studying alone for most people. Many universities run free language courses to students. A course will also help provide structure to your learning.

Sometimes the courses are only available to students on certain courses, but it’s definitely worth enquiring as to availability.

Although the languages taught will likely be restricted to the most widely spoken, a language course from your university is a great way to start learning. If your university does not provide any courses, you can see if the city where you study offers any courses.

Girl vs Globe, youtube

#3: Expose yourself to the language

Learning a language requires more work than just studying grammar and vocabulary.

You need to work on not only listening and oral skills, but also reading and writing skills.

You may have a perfect grasp of verb conjugations and noun declensions but this does not guarantee you will be able to communicate effectively with locals in your chosen language.

Make use of any free time by listening to the radio or a podcast in a foreign language. You can do this whilst driving or doing errands. Listening is fundamental is accustoming your brain to the new language.

It is also important to read a variety of content, from newspapers to novels to help reinforce the vocabulary you know. You can even start with children’s books to get the basics down.

#4: Install a VPN

Installing a VPN can be useful to access some media in other languages. For example, Netflix has a different catalogue depending on the country you are in. If you want to watch shows only available in Spain, you must switch your browsing country to Spain with a VPN. Google Chrome has a VPN extension called Hola which lets you change your browsing country.

Also, if you shop online you can browse your websites in a different language, this will help you to remember useful vocabulary.

The Bliss Bean, YouTube

#5: Get to Know an International student

UK universities attract a lot of international students who will be looking to make friends with locals.

Obviously, many international students will already have advanced English but they may be looking for a local friend to help them understand more about British culture and the UK university system. They also might find it nice to speak their native language with you. 

You can post notices around your university or write a post on a university Facebook

#6: Make use of YouTube

Like Netflix, YouTube is a great resource for improving your listening skills. It has thousands of films and TV shows dubbed in foreign languages or subtitled.  

Even better, there are thousands of YouTubers from all over the world making content about every topic imaginable. You can find videos on all sorts of subjects from food, politics, makeup, environmental issues, cultural movements, and other interesting topics.

Content of this kind will improve your listening skills and at the same time you can learn about the culture of the country.

#7: Join a language society

Photo by ELEVATE from Pexels

A great way to develop your intermediate language skills and practice speaking is to join a university language society. It might be challenging if you are a complete beginner, but is a great experience if you already have conversational skills.

It is a great way to make new friends and makes language learning enjoyable and satisfying when you find yourself able to hold a conversation.

Language societies usually have some fun activities going on like cooking traditional food, watching foreign-language films, and even visiting another country where the language is spoken.

The most important part is of course being able to speak your chosen language face to face in a relaxed environment. Many of the members will be advanced or fluent and be able to help you, and there will also be much learning like you. You do not have to be perfect and you will definitely improve.

If your university doesn’t currently have a language society, you could consider setting one up. Check out our post where we share fundraising ideas for university societies.

#8: Consistency is key

Early on when learning a new language, you might find yourself learning a lot after studying just for a few days or weeks. Conversely, it is easy to forget all you have learned as many of us learned after studying French in school for ten years.

Learning a language requires consistency. It is better to study a bit every day than hours on end every other week.

#9: Go abroad

You can learn a lot from the media, the internet, and speaking and listening to other people, but the best method to quickly improve and eventually master a language is to go to a country that speaks your chosen language.

Throwing yourself in at the deep end is the best way to really learn about the culture and the language.

You will have time to visit during the holidays. Save up some money and find a choose somewhere that appeals to you where you can absorb the culture and the language. Limit yourself from speaking and reading English media and you will be forced to learn. You will be amazed at how your skills improve when you are surrounded by a foreign language.

Living in a country where your language is actually spoken is the fastest method to becoming fluent, as you’re forced to put every new word and expression that you learn into practice.

The summer holidays are your best opportunity to go abroad for a long time to improve a language.

There are lots of French and Spanish speaking countries across the world. If you are learning either you could volunteer in Africa, the Americas, or the Caribbean.

You could even earn some money. There are hundreds of websites that help hire English speakers find jobs such as teaching or caring for children. You can for a holiday, a semester, or longer if you have the time.

You can look to see if your university offers an Erasmus program in a country where your language is spoken.

Erasmus programs are usually not more expensive in regards to tuition fees and often they are cheaper. Your university might also provide free language classes before you go to help you out.

Conclusion: Learning a language at university

The most important tips for learning a language at university are to believe that you can do it and to stay consistent.

It can be difficult and frustrating at first but there are no shortcuts and hard work will lead to results. Learning a language can become a positive feedback loop as the more you learn, the more you will enjoy learning as you see it start to pay off.

For more tips on getting the most out of university, you can check out our posts on starting and enjoying your time at university.  

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