How to avoid returning sin the lingua franca
July and August usually spell the end of a fantastic/not so fantastic year abroad; some of you may find joy in stepping out onto familiar soil, others may be slightly disheartened to leave a life they loved, and others still might be coping with serious jet-lag. One thing you're supposedly going to notice, as family, friends and foes have all been so quick to say over and over again, is that you'll be pretty much fluent once it's over. But is that necessarily the case for everyone?
What happens if you don't speak the language perfectly, you can't master your por from your para and intonation is still just a funny looking word to you?
It can (and does) happen that some students come back not really knowing as much as their peers do, after the year abroad. There are many reasons for this: (chronic) shyness, working in an English-speaking context, teaching English as a foreign language, or even not making that many local friends. Aside from feeling a little down on your way back home, you'll probably be thinking about what's going to happen in September, once you have to really toughen up for 4th year, oral finals and all...
Jen, a Newcastle University (nearly) graduate was in the same boat, when she came back from her year abroad in Buenos Aires and Rio de Janeiro. 'I literally hadn't progressed in Spanish, and my Portuguese felt very shaky,' she says, 'it was as if I'd only gone for a month or two, and I felt totally out of my depth - accent, vocab, the lot'. Jen did have a 'wicked time, mostly with fellow English and French people'. Ahh. That old chestnut - for all our will, and all our might, it is all too common for English speakers to meet up and make the most of caipirinhas, chattering away in their native tongue. 'When I came back for the summer, it really did dawn on me that my language skills weren't what they should be - especially as I met up with some course mates and they could really speak well', adds Jen.
So what did she do? 'Well, apart from turning my lush golden tan into a slightly green-tinged undertone at first, I couldn't really afford to be jealous of what they'd achieved. I looked into some intensive courses pretty sharpish as I still had a few weeks left before the end of the summer', she quips in. Language courses can be a good investment - if you choose wisely. If you're studying something altogether more business-related, there are loads of short, intense workshops that can fit the bill, and give you the vocabulary that you so desperately need before September rears its autumnal face.
You could, alternatively, do something rather more, er, alternative, for lack of a better word. There are short courses, here or away (more year abroad time? Yes please!), which cater to a wide audience - cooking, outdoor activities, you name it, there'll be a course your tongue's made for! Of course, that's just one port of call - there's also loads more you can do, which doesn't necessarily involve forking out cash reserves. Loads of sites offer language-practising facilities, and you can do it all as long as you've got an internet connection (and perhaps a headset). Reading foreign newspapers and books might help on the whole grammar versus vocabulary intake, too. Ever thought about re-reading your favourite novel in your studied language? Now's the time, plus you could always work up a tan, too (in the garden or on the beach, it's up to you...).
With the greatness of Spotify, you can also discover foreign music, and practice that-a-way, or watch endless YouTube videos and clips of foreign shows. Podcasts are also a great way to get back into the swing of things, and the great thing about them is the fact you can easily tune in, and tune out, when it suits you. Most people come back from their year abroad pretty skint, what with travelling, partying, studying and socialising, your bank account could probably do with some cash injections. Working abroad isn't a bad option - plus you might be able to pull in a few quid, too, depending on where you're working. WWOOF is great as it allows you to work outdoors and get free lodging - puuurfect for the student budget!
Mini trips might have to be put on the agenda - but not with the travelling idea in mind: you could find temp work at a beach resort, for example, working with the locals and practising your Euros from your Pesos. If going off abroad again doesn't really cut the (Colman's) mustard, you could look into work at home - but choose an area where foreigners move to. London and other big cities like Manchester and Bristol are great for this - you can pin-spot restaurants, bars and clubs to find a team of workers that speak your choice of language, or you could look into particular districts and neighbourhoods to find a Hispanic/French/Japanese/etc community. Elephant & Castle is a real melting pot for Hispanic speakers, South Kensington is (nearly) official French territory and so on and so forth...
Language learning isn't all about your year abroad - it's also about your day to day lifestyle. Change just a few (perhaps a bit more than a few, actually) habits, and you'll soon find the right way of learning for you; the best thing about it is that it doesn't have to cost a penny.