24 March 2014

5 Tips to Help You Learn a Language

(Disclaimer blah blah, Backpack Becky is not affiliated or sponsored by any of the companies/websites below, this is our opinion only. As much as I’d like these companies to pay me to write about them, unfortunately this is not the case…)

At the moment I’m living in France as an au pair and attempting to learn the language. I have the freedom in my life to be able to leave a place at the drop of a hat and move to another country. Hence why I'm now surrounded by berets, baguettes and croissants, because I want to be able to speak fluent in French. However, being in France has taught me it will take much more than just living here to improve my language, so here are some ways you can improve without having to pack up your life and leave your country.

1. Skype Exchange – Skype exchange is probably the most effective way to improve your language if you aren't surrounded by it every day. At the moment I use the website www.conversationexchange.com where I search for native French speakers who want to learn English. You can chat via Skype, email or even face-to-face. I tend to type chat on Skype the most, as it still does take a lot of confidence to call someone up, but the people you speak to are aware of your language ability, and no doubt they will make mistakes in English so you just have to go for it! I tend to chat half and half when I speak to someone. So we chat for 30 minutes in French, then 30 minutes in English. I also really encourage people to correct my typing and my speech, otherwise it’s pointless. Some people feel too rude to stop and alter your speech, so make sure you tell them to please correct you. If you aim to chat to someone at least twice a week on Skype, your language will improve massively as your ears are adjusting to a native way of speaking and you have to think on your feet.

2. AnkiDroid Flashcards – I write down any French word I learn, but to actually remember all of the words is the main task. At first I had paper flashcards but they piled up quickly and when I saw a pile of 200+ cards I’d easily put them off. Therefore I downloaded the app AnkiDroid Flashcards on my mobile. You add flashcards to the app then you rate how easy they were to remember, so if a word was tough it would ask me it again in 10 minutes, but if it was really easy it would ask me the word again in a month’s time. I now have 600+ words and phrases on my app but I’m only ever looking at my flashcards for a maximum of 10 minutes a day. It’s a great way to refresh your memory and keep you up to date with what you know.

3. Lang-8 – www.lang-8.com is a site where natives correct your written language. I write a kind of journal most days, just saying what I did the previous day, and then native French speakers correct my grammar and phrases. The more you correct other peoples work, the more your work will be corrected.

4. Podcasts – I listen to Learn French By Podcast which is completely free on iTunes. Even though you have to pay for the lesson script, I choose not to. The podcasts go through typical scenarios you may experience, for example, hiring a car abroad, going to the doctors etc. The podcasts are usually 10-15 minutes and they help me put a lot of verbs in context. I also listen to another French podcast which teaches me a lot of idioms. This is a bit too difficult, but it’s still taught me a lot.

5. Couchsurfing – Overall, as much as you know a dictionary of vocab, or you can recite every verb ending in the conditional tense, it’s all kind of pointless unless you can put it into spoken context. Therefore, one of the best ways to learn a language is to just talk with natives. Couchsurfing is a great way to meet other people in your area, and probably a good way to find out if any other nationalities are nearby. I use the site a hell of a lot in France to meet French people my age who want to go for a drink. A lot of the time I don’t have a clue what anyone is saying, but my language has definitely improved just by meeting some Frenchies for a coffee or a glass of wine. Also, so far everyone I have met has been extremely patient and so nice with me, as if on couchsurfing, they've probably been in the same boat when they were trying to learn English.

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