I have to be completely honest, I am writing this blog post right now to procrastinate from studying for my Chinese class. We have a mid-term coming up in a few weeks. I have just had a look at the test brief that our teacher sent out and I am already feeling kind of overwhelmed.
I try to stay on top of my language learning, but it’s difficult to fully immerse myself when I live life in English. I love being able to finish my degree in Australia, and I am happy that I can continue studying Mandarin at university, but it can be hard to stayed focussed.
I used to live in China. I was studying Mandarin full-time at a university in the southwest of the country, and I could feel myself improving quickly. Every day I was putting my skills into practice, whether it was with cab drivers, friends, waitresses, bartenders, or even my classmates, many of whom didn’t speak English.
It’s great that Griffith has so many international students coming here to study English, and have the opportunity to be completely immersed in it. That’s what it’s all about, really: fully engaging yourself in the language that you’re learning. So, for all of you that are studying Italian, Spanish, German, Chinese, Japanese – or any of the other courses offered at our university – how do we tackle these languages as a lifestyle when we are in an English-speaking country? I’ve begun to see a pattern in my own second language acquisition experience, and have compiled a few ideas. Please note: these are applicable to anyone, learning any language, regardless of what country they are in!
An interesting method of language acquisition I came across this summer is Extensive Reading.
“Extensive reading is reading as much as possible, for your own pleasure, at a difficulty level at which you can read smoothly and quickly without looking up words or translating to English as you go. In other words, instead of spending a half hour decoding a tiny part of one book (also known as intensive reading), you read many simpler books that are at or slightly below the level at which you read fluently. This lets you get used to reading more complex sentences with ease, reinforces the words you already know and helps you learn new words from context.” (from Liana’s Extensive Reading Journal)
Before starting my Chinese classes this semester, I realised that I had been out of the Mandarin game for a year and a half and was probably going to be in a bit of trouble when uni started. I began reading simple Chinese stories through a free app (“Chinese Stories – Elementary”) to kickstart my character recognition, grammar, and comprehension. It wasn’t long before I started picking up on characters I had forgotten because of the context. If I had seen these characters individually, I would have had no idea what they meant, but because they were part of sentences, in a story, my memory was instantly jogged. I can attest to the fact that reading definitely helps with fluency and familiarity when studying a language.
We are going to watch movies and TV shows anyway, so why not watch them in the language that you’re learning? SBS sometimes has programming in different languages (I try not to miss If You Are the One/非诚勿扰 every Tuesday night), but generally your best bet is to check YouTube or other streaming sites. Search online for popular movies from whatever country’s language you’re studying then see if you can rent or stream them. Focus on listening, rewind if you need to, note words or phrases you don’t understand and just let the language flow around you. Again, context can really help in this case, particularly with words you don’t necessarily have a firm grasp on. English subtitles can be useful if you are a lower level learner, but as you get better, try to go the whole movie or show without any translation aids.
Probably one of the most important aspects of language learning, speaking is vital to your fluency, comprehension, grammar, listening skills, and vocabulary. It is also incredibly challenging to practice those speaking skills when you’re learning a language that is not native to the country in which you are residing. I’ve found that having a language partner or doing language swap is one of the best methods. Language partners can be sought in a number of ways:
- Find a new friend at uni – contact the Student Guild about meeting a partner or try joining a cultural club related to your new language.
- italki – great website to find language partners all over the world!
- MyLanguageExchange – create a profile, specify your city and the language you want to learn, and find a partner. You can choose to chat over email, Skype, or meet up in person.
Griffith is also partnered with the Tourism Confucius Institute, which offers free, informal Chinese language practice sessions with native speakers on Wednesday afternoons in G52.
Other learning resources
There are some fantastic free apps out there to supplement your language learning. DuoLingo is a fantastic, fun method of building your language skills; you “unlock” different levels as you improve. For Chinese learners, Pleco and NCIKU are invaluable dictionary/grammar resources. It’s also good to check out blogs specific to the language you are learning (I like Hacking Chinese), to keep up to date with different software, apps, and other resources as well as practical tips.
The most important thing to remember is that learning a new language takes time, effort, and patience, particularly if you’re not living daily life in full language immersion. You can get by with just doing the basics – going to class and completing your homework – but if you want a firm foundation then get to know the culture, talk to your teachers, and explore your language outside the classroom.