A study abroad can be one of the most effective ways to learn and perfect another language. Even if you are staying with a host family, learning another language will require continual diligence and effort on your part. Here are some ways to acquire mastery over a foreign tongue:
1. Carry vocabulary flashcards wherever you go.
Give yourself flashcards to mastery a set of vocabulary for the week. Consider studying vocabulary according to subject matter: food and restaurants, hobbies, careers, etc. Quiz yourself regularly throughout the week on these words, especially when you are riding on public transportation. Give yourself some opportunities to practice these words throughout the week as well. If you have spent the week on food vocabulary, for example, try asking for those foods at an outdoor market.
2. Carry a notebook to write down words you don’t know.
Listen carefully to what others are saying. If you hear someone saying something unfamiliar to you, write it down before you forget it. If you don’t know how to spell it, spell it out the best you can until your host family or a native can spell it for you. Writing things down will help you retain your new vocabulary. Try to make a goal of writing down at least ten new words a day.
3. Spend a day (or longer) not speaking English at all.
After you have spent some time in your country, commit yourself to only speak the language you are trying to learn for at least 24 hours. This challenge will force you to learn new vocabulary and review grammatical principles as you attempt to express yourself. If you are still in the beginning stages of learning a language, commit yourself to spending a half-day of avoiding English.
4. Resist the temptation to spend large amounts of time with other English speakers.
This can be tricky, especially if you are homesick or if you do not feel comfortable with the new language. However, studying a language while speaking your native tongue regularly will not help you improve. Get to know your host family or other locals in the area instead. Continually put yourself in situations where you are forced to speak a new tongue.
5. Be patient with yourself.
Languages are not developed in a week, and neither is language acquisition. Don’t get frustrated when you make mistakes or you can’t remember a vocabulary word at the opportune moment. If you make continual daily efforts, you will eventually find yourself at ease conversing with locals—perhaps even understanding their jokes as well.