By Caroline Donat
When young children learn languages, they are also learning about how the world around them functions. Everything is new and exciting so learning is fun. When learning a language as an adult however, we often experience more frustrations with the learning process. We know what we want to say but struggle to express it properly. Though we can use the social and occupational skills we have gained in adulthood, bringing back the fresh newness we experience as children can help us with our language acquisition.
International students at USC already face daily immersion into American life. Since this immersion can be shocking, it is hard to resist an opportunity for the comfort of speaking to another international student in your first language. This is okay and perhaps necessary to stay motivated to conduct the majority of the day in English. These small comforts do not need to be sacrificed in order to improve one’s fluency.
If we want to accelerate our language-learning however, we need to take our learning beyond the classroom and literally translate aspects of our daily life. This means carrying out our normal behavior in another language with the openness we had as children, by reading the foreign text on our breakfast food packaging or watching a late-night soap opera (perhaps with the help of subtitles). I say “we” because, even though I am a native English speaker, I am currently looking for ways to obtain fluency in Arabic and Spanish. There is always more that we can do to promote our learning. While we will never find the time to do everything, there are some tricks that we can work into our schedules without rearranging other commitments and priorities.
Newspapers are a great way to not only improve your English (or other language) skills, but to keep up with the local culture. Depending on your free time and interests, you can choose to browse sections about fashion and upcoming performances, or dip into today’s politics. Either way, you will have something to talk about with other English speakers. The best part is that you can fit this reading into your schedule by inserting it during meals, while riding the bus, or waiting for class to start. You can sign up for LA Times to be delivered to your home, download a news app, or pick up a free local newspaper from the boxes on the sidewalk.
Also, listening to music in your new language is an easy way to enhance your learning. iTunes, Apple Music, and YouTube are all popular, but most students prefer Spotify because of all of the songs you can listen to for free. Sign in with your USC email to gain access to your free account! On Spotify, you can view the top songs in the U.S. (and many other countries) or find new music similar to songs that you already like. If you like listening to acoustic indie music, try some Ed Sheeran songs. If you would like to try out RnB, search for music by Miguel. You do not need to pay attention to the lyrics, simply surrounding yourself with the words of your new language can help your comprehension and pronunciation.
Finally, my favorite way to improve in languages I’m learning is by listening to the radio in that language. I am constantly listening to Spanish radio talk shows and music, and I find it so easy to insert into my day. You can listen to it in the car while driving to school or, if you’re feeling retro, you can buy an old-school radio for your home. If you want to find a better channel or your language (like Arabic, for me) is not broadcast locally, you can download a radio app. Listening to a news radio station is often times easier than listening to music because the speech pattern is more normal. Also, it is less distracting than music. You can even put it on in the background while cooking dinner or doing homework.
Overall, try to notice the little things that you do in your native language and gradually convert them to your new one. As they say, a language is a way of life, so we must let it affect us outside of academia.
Featured image by Eric Nopanen on Flickr
Caroline is a rising junior studying law, history, and culture (BA). She grew up near New York City, where she lived with her family and dog (a Norfolk Terrier named Marty). Caroline loves teaching and has been a pre-school teacher, math and English tutor for NYC middle school students, and a remote conversational English tutor for a Syrian refugee woman. She spends her free time meeting with international students as a One-on-One Conversation Partner, dancing with USC’s Break Through hip hop team, the Break On 2 latin dance team, and trying vegan foods.