7 tips on how to improve your language skills
Updated: May 7, 2020
Being a good translator means you have excellent command of the languages you are using for this purpose. In many cases, the translator grew up speaking both languages and therefore they naturally have a head start over non-natives when translating. However, if you learned a language in school and wish to use it as a source language, you might want to spend some time making yourself truly fluent so that you don’t shy away from even the most rarely used idioms. Language and cultural context go hand-in-hand and having a strong grasp of both of these elements is what is going to help you succeed as a translator. These tips aren’t just applicable for translators either. If you wish to improve your language skills, regardless of the reason, these points will also point you in the right direction.
Find a shared living situation where the only spoken language is the one you want to improve.
If you are able to, live with a person in a foreign country or even in your own country that speaks the language you want to improve. In this age of globalization, it’s pretty easy to find someone in your area that will move in with you, providing the two of you also get along. You could also board with a family in a foreign country for total immersion.
Find a tandem partner.
If you aren’t willing to take such a huge step and live with someone or you aren’t able to travel to the country where the language is spoken for whichever reason, then a good idea would be go get a tandem partner. This is an arrangement between two individuals who speak the languages that either want to improve, free of charge, as opposed to a tutor per say. Plus, the cool thing is that you can meet this person in whichever setting you want, be it a café, bar or park. You can usually find people looking for tandem partners on eBay or Craigslist. There are also paying tutoring platforms that exist online like iTalki or Preply.
Read books, watch movies and TV series in the language of your dreams.
Whether you are in your home country, or abroad, there is always the chance to read books, watch movies or TV series in the language you want to learn, thanks of course to the internet or even your public library. Back in Canada, I scoured the library and video stores for all the German movies I could find. Not only was this a great way to improve my language skills, it was also great to “put a face to a name”, meaning that, attached to German was also a personality, people, culture, history etc. that made the language even more enticing, making me want to learn more.
Don’t take no for an answer
In a situation where someone answers you in your mother tongue when you attempt to speak the language you are attempting to learn, boldly continue to speak in said language. This happened to me a few times in Germany, and instead of bashfully going the easy route with my tail between my legs, I simply kept on speaking German. It usually takes the person a minute or two to revert back to their language. In many cases though, if the person isn’t too impatient that is, locals love it when foreigners try to speak the national tongue.
Join a language club
In most big cities, you can often find a club dedicated to the language you want to learn. Sometimes this is through the university in your area, or even a Meetup group (www.meetup.com), you will just have to do a bit of research on the Internet to scour them out. It’s great to be surrounded by a bunch of people with a common interest and even if you all make mistakes while talking, it doesn’t matter, because you are all in the same boat. Often a native speaker will also come to the group to help out.
Use apps on your phone, but not only
There are a few really great language apps there, and I have personally have good experiences with Duolingo when sprucing up my Spanish, but I don't believe that you can learn a language using these tools alone, they require a full body, mind and soul kind of approach from my experience. Language learning apps are great for keeping new tongues fresh in your mind, seeing as we do live in the digital age now, and we've always got our phones in our hands or nearby. I find that some people who use them really lack the basics, such as conjugating auxiliary verbs ''to be'' and ''to have'', which are just the bread and butter of any language.
You don't have to live abroad to learn the language - it does take a lot of memorization though to really get it right. I mentioned above the basics of a language - you have got to get these right in order to progress, and that means memorization. And use a holistic approach, as in: write it, read it and say it! And do it over and over again. With the basis grammar and verb conjugation in your toolkit, and some language tricks to remember these rules, you've got the rest in the bag.
Post COVID-19: Spend some time in the country where the language is spoken
You are not going to get any better at a language within the confined space of a classroom, no matter how good of a pupil you are, or how genius your teacher is. The reality is that you need to actually spend some time in the country where the language in spoken. There are cool programs such as Work and Travel i.e. Working Holiday for people under 30 (some cases 35) years of age. You are given an open visa for the period of one year to enter and work in the country, allowing you to get a job of your choice. Whether you are taking a year off between school, or on a sabbatical, you must leave your motherland and travel to foreign soil.
Get employed in a foreign country
This goes along the lines of moving to and living in a country where the desired language is spoken. The next step would be to get a job. Don’t worry whether your language level is good enough, for many jobs this isn’t necessarily a problem. Upon arriving in Germany when I did my Work and Travel experience, I could just speak textbook German. After spending a few months as a tourist, and soon realizing that I needed to make some money, I started working at banquets and catering events. From there on my German skills skyrocketed, plus I was having a lot of fun.
Can you think of any other tips to share? Give me some feedback if you attempted any of the tips I mention above!