Every year, more than 300,000 students spend time studying in a different country, immersed in an unfamiliar culture and enhancing language skills to be able to compete in a global workplace that more or less requires us to know at least two languages. If not that, it at least requires us to understand cultural nuances as immigration around the globe booms and cities are no longer homogenous.
If you’re one of the thousands of students who have returned from a semester, year or month abroad, welcome back! Just because you’ve spent time immersed in a language, though, doesn’t mean your learning is over. And perhaps you’re reading this article because you realize it. There are plenty of ways for you to keep up with your language skills when not in school or in-country. Here are just a few to get you going.
Volunteer with a local organization that needs translation assistance.
I studied a lot of Spanish in high school and college and have since carried it into my professional life in the nonprofit sector. Many organizations need more support with language services. Spanish is in high demand across the country, and depending on where you live, other language skills could come in handy. In New York, it might be Mandarin; in Chicago, Polish; in Detroit, Arabic. Reach out to one of these local organizations doing work in an area that interests you and see how you might be able to help them during a food distribution, a workshop, citizenship classes, tax prep or a whole host of other services they might provide their clients.
Listen to a podcast or radio show in your target language.
Whether you’re spending time cooking and cleaning or lounging in the sun this summer, podcasts and other audio are fantastic ways to continue to learn a language. It doesn’t take a lot of effort to do; all you need to do is listen and understand! For those who are studying Spanish, Italian or French, try out News in Slow, an app that discusses current events in those languages slowly so that a learner of any level can understand. For my Spanish speakers, Radio Ambulante is one of my favorite podcasts that investigates Latin American stories and cultures not frequently covered by American news outlets.
Read one article in the language every day.
Do you remember how you learned English and got better at it? You read. As our reading comprehension grew, we graduated to more complicated language in English. The same is true in any other language. Reading can increase your vocabulary and help you understand colloquialism and proper grammar. You’ll also learn more about the pop culture and news of the country or region that speaks your target language.
Write an entry in your journal in a different language every once in a while.
Writing is usually the hardest skill to continue to practice when you aren’t writing papers in that language, doing worksheets or writing short essays. One of the easiest and least judgmental ways to better your writing skills—and by extension, comprehension and grammar—is through journaling. I don’t write in my journal frequently (which I should), but when I do, I write in Spanish. I don’t question my grammar or spelling. No one else will see the entries except me, which makes any inhibitions disappear.
Find a Language Meet Up where you are – or start one!
Meet Ups are a great tool to practice spoken language skills in your community. And if one isn’t active, start it yourself! These groups tend to meet at restaurants or in parks. As someone who constantly moves to new cities and towns for internships, college and a job, I’ve found that Meet Ups can be a great way to meet people, introduce yourself to the city and get comfortable. I haven’t personally gone to a Meet Up, but I’m hoping to sometime soon!
Teach the language to middle and high school students.
I never would have thought to teach my target language until my aunt told me that my cousins were doing just that with their summer. Local community colleges, high schools and cultural organizations might have language classes, camps or tutoring over the summer, which can be a great way to test your knowledge and to help others learn. I’m not usually an advocate for non-native speakers teaching a language, but if students struggle to understand grammar concepts or have trouble remembering vocabulary, it can help to have a non-native speaker as a tutor. You most likely struggled with those same concepts at one point and could relate to that student. You’ve gone through the language-learning process and could have great tips and tricks to study and gain fluency.