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7 Tips Prepping For A Language Program Abroad

By Dorioara Pinku

Whether you know zero vocabulary or you are an advanced speaker in a foreign language, a little preparation can help you get the most out of your immersion language program abroad. Below are some tips from study abroad veterans. Whether you plan to study Spanish, learn Italian, or even become fluent in Japanese, this is advice worth paying attention to.

1. Set Realistic Goals

Learning another language isn't easy for most of us. It takes time, practice and many mistakes. Go into a program with the goal of increasing your communication skills. Don't assume that you are going to perfect the language in so many weeks or months, it's too much pressure.

2. Bolster Your Vocabulary

If you are an absolute beginner, get a phrase book, preferably with a tape to accompany it (check out the Spanish phrase ebook given away at the end of this article). Learn some basics like: "Please", "Thank you", "Where is.. ", "How much... ", etc. Knowing these phrases and some hand gestures will get you by in a crunch. For intermediate or advanced speakers, we recommend learning as much vocabulary as possible before you go, including common idioms. Your language instruction will focus mainly on grammar, conversation and listening. The more vocabulary you have going into the program, the more ways you will get to apply the language.

All participants should bring a comprehensive dictionary, not only a pocket dictionary. Consider a guidebook that has a section listing local colloquialisms. This ensures that you will not travel to Ecuador or try to study in Guatemala with knowledge only of the Spanish commonly used in Madrid or Barcelona. Being prepared for local sayings can help you get the most out of your language classes or study abroad program.

3. Be Able To Conjugate Important Verbs

Learn to conjugate, COLD, those really important verbs like: to wish/want, to be able/can, to be and to go. These kinds of verbs conjugated in the present or past combined with infinitives instantly increase your ability to communicate. If you are an absolute beginner focus on the "I and "you forms of the really important verbs.

4. Think The Language

Don't try and translate everything word for word. It doesn't work. You will drive yourself crazy looking for a word that may not exist in the target language. Recognize the fact that grammar rules will be different. Learn the differences along with the similarities and your understanding of HOW the language works will increase ten fold. Even if you are fluent in Spanish and have spent years studying in Barcelona, if you are going to attend an international language program in Paris you will need to familiarize yourself with a new "thought process for the French language.

5. When In Doubt, "Literature-ize"

This means try to use "larger words. For example, in Spanish, "need doesn't translate but "necessity turns into "necesidad", "requisite becomes "requisito and "exigency blossoms into "exigencia". Since these words sound very similar, you will be understood. There are examples like these in all languages.

6. Romance Languages Are Similar

If you know another romance language, you have a leg up on learning Spanish or studying Portuguese. You already know the concept of masculine and feminine words, accent marks, etc. Many words ending in Y like liberty will end with: "ad in Spanish, "e in French, "ade in Portuguese or " in Italian. Similarly, words ending in "ion in English often sound alike, and mean the same thing in Spanish.

Learning Chinese or studying Japanese, Arabic, Hebrew, or Thai can present unique challenges, as the words are so different from what most of us are used to hearing. More time may be necessary to learn these languages, and more pre-trip preparation can be immensely helpful. Regardless of the difficulty level of the language, knowing two or more languages makes any international study program easier, and the benefits of learning an uncommon tongue can far outweigh the drawbacks.

7. Stay Open Minded

The best tool for learning a language at any level is a good attitude. Understanding the culture helps with language acquisition. Don't be afraid to make mistakes, they are great to learn from and can be funny too! A sense of humor really helps.

About The Author
Dorioara Pinku is the co-owner of AmeriSpan, a leader in study abroad and international education since 1993. 85 cities, 35 countries.


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