Sunday, 31 July 2016

Year Abroad Series: 6 Ways to Avoid English

When you go on your Year Abroad for language purposes like I did, people can’t stop talking about how important it is for you to immerse yourself and make the most of the language experience. The methods they suggest are sometimes hard to achieve: Live with only German people! Be friends with only German people! Only ever speak German! Hopefully, the list below is full of things that are easier (and sometimes more fun) to accomplish:

  1. Join the local library

I only joined the library in my second semester but I really wish I’d done it beforehand; they have a great selection of original texts and translations, nice reading spaces, and often cafés attached. In Germany, you pay a small yearly fee (€10) and you get access to not only the physical books, but usually also the online catalogue. I saved so much money joining the library and my language skills improved greatly and it was fun. Yay for reading!

  1. Read translations of your favourite books

A friend once shamed me for reading English-to-German translations of books, telling me that I was wasting my time and I should just read original German texts instead. I say: there is nothing wrong with reading translations. Translations are not only a form of art in themselves, but also incredibly helpful; they can be great for learning vocab you wouldn’t normally come across, or giving you examples of casual social interactions, all whilst you’re reading an excellent book! Also, if you read a book you love in another language, it will always feel less daunting. Harry Potter is my favourite example because things are slightly different, but will continue to feel familiar, for example the houses in French: Gryffondor, Serpentine, Serdaigle, POUFSOUFFLE (my fave).
  1. Netflix subtitles

I don’t know about you, but I have a real issue watching dubbed films. I hate how I can tell that what a voice actor is saying is not what’s being said by the actor, but also how actors sound different. When I watch Doctor Who, I want to hear David Tennant’s voice.

Instead I just watched everything in the original language, but with German subtitles. Although sometimes it’s easy to get distracted from what you’re actually watching, subtitles are a massive help when it comes to idioms and syntax - two of the most difficult aspects of a language to learn (for me, at least).

  1. Spotify music charts

It is so hard to find good German music because everywhere just plays American/English music. To combat this, I first asked my German flatmate what she was listening to and discovered Matteo Capreoli but then resorted to Spotify playlists. When you use Spotify, just change the country you’re in and voilá - more music in your target language.

  1. Social media!

Find people on Twitter/Instagram who post in your target language - and engage with them! You’ll learn how people are using the language casually, which is something you’re just not taught at school. On Instagram especially it’s a good way of finding out what people are reading in your target language that isn’t a translation (although as mentioned, translations are a good thing).

  1. Find a host family

This sometimes requires you to put yourself out there a bit, but it was the best thing I did on my Year Abroad in terms of language. My city ran a project between locals and the universities called Fremden werden Freunde (Strangers become Friends) where you get paired with a local. It could be a family, an old person, a young couple, whoever. The idea is you then do things together. I specified that I like to sing, so I got matched with an elderly couple who took me along to their choir, thus introducing me to 60 other native German speakers who were all interested in the English girl 40 years younger than them all, none of whom spoke good English. Although daunting, I was made to feel welcome immediately and had some really good conversations with people about the differences between the UK and Germany, my thoughts on German politics, and most importantly: who are you supporting in the Euros? (Germany of course, always Germany).

Do you have any tips for immersing yourself in a language? Let me know in the comments below!

Previous Posts in the Year Abroad Series