My Personal Top 10 Tips for Learning a Language

Learning a foreign language: By many, especially English native speakers, seen as either a “hopeless endeavour” – since you’re not going to speak it like a native anyway, why even try – ¬†or as “pointless”, be it because they don’t intend to live abroad anyway or because they believe nearly everyone speaks their language anyway. Personally, I sincerely enjoy learning languages, and find it very useful too (more concrete reasons why I love languages in a post to be followed…). By now, at age 21, I’m fluent in German (great, that) and English, and very good at both Spanish and French. In case you’re also aiming at improving one or more of your language, or learning one from scratch, I’d like to share some tips to you that have proven most useful over the years to improve. These are to be seen apart from very obvious things like taking a language class or buying a book that teaches you how to.

language1.) Read Рbut according to your level! 

You’re former language teacher at school might have told you this: Reading is great for improving a language, for increasing and consolidating your vocabulary, and improving your feel for the language. However, what teachers often miss out on, is that it’s indispensable to base the choice of your reading material on your personal level. It is no wonder that people feel resigned and frustrated when trying to digest some sort of sophisticated magazines after having learned the language only for a few months. It is much better to read books for children, for example, or books especially written for learners.

2.) Read out loud

While reading, it is also very to useful to actually read out loud. Once you have learnt how the consonants and vowels are pronounced, what you need is practice – and practicing in the safe environment of your room gives your mouth the opportunity of getting used to the new sounds.

3.)¬†Write words you can’t remember on post its

It should be clear that it’s a good idea to write words you don’t know down – I’ve also found it really useful, however, to write those persistent words that keep reoccurring anywhere but in your mind on post its. Post them in front of your desk, on the door, the mirror, pretty much anywhere – if you keep looking at them, you will be bound to remember them (some day).

4.)¬†Write a diary/story/blog in the language you’re learning

I guess this blog is the best example of how writing a diary/story/blog or whatever in the language you’re learning can help you. While my English hasn’t improved massively in the two weeks or so that I’m writing this blog, I do look up words every now and then or check the grammar, and that is after having learned it for 10 years! In the beginning phase, you’re most likely not going to feel confident enough to start a blog – write a diary instead! You will find yourself getting much more used to the language, learning more words and consolidating them straight away.

5.) Try thinking in the same language or inventing conversations in your mind

Quite similar is the idea of trying to think in a foreign language. It might seem like a strange idea, but it is possible if you remind yourself not to let your mind wander back to your own language. Again, look up words you don’t know in the dictionary, and try to write them down if they’re common. If you don’t know what to think about, just make up conservations in your mind. The good think is: It’s for free and you can very conveniently use it to kill some time in the tube or waiting or whatever.

6.) Watch movies with subtitles in the same language

Watching movies is probably one of the most enjoyable ways of learning/improving a language. However, many people make the mistake (in my opinion) of turning on subtitles in their own language. That way, you’re much more likely to read along the subtitles than actually listen to what’s being said. My advice: as soon as your level is at least intermediate, choose the subtitles in the original language!

7.) Actually live in a country where the language is spoken

This is probably the ultimate, and most obvious, tip for learning a language. While it is possible to bring your language up to quite a high level by using all the other tips, and taking language classes, really mastering a language is, in my opinion, only possible if you actually live in the country. That is, if you actually talk to locals and immerse yourself in the culture (see my older post: https://strollingtheworld.wordpress.com/2013/12/29/5-personal-tips-for-living-abroad/ )

8.) Do a language exchange/meet-up

This is useful both if you do, and if you don’t live in the country where your aspired language is spoken. Language exchange, are one-to-one meetings, whereas in language “meet-up” people learning different languages can meet and practice. Both are great for practicing, and also a great way for meeting new people.

9.) Give yourself an incentive

Without incentive, why learn a language? Make sure you know why exactly you’re learning the language, and write down the main reason so that there are readily available to you as a reminder. If you can’t live in a country where the language is spoken, at least book a holiday to it so that you have a short-term incentive for learning it!

10.) Don’t give up!

Learning a language isn’t easy and takes a lot of time, but it’s a great feeling when you realize that you can actually watch a film and understand it, or have a conversation with a stranger when on holiday!

PS: Do you think these tips are useful? What are your tips for learning a language?

Why Living in London Isn’t as Great as You Might Think

When I received a confirmation for a place at a renowned university in London two years ago, to say I was excited is an understatement. London. Described by many as the “most exciting city in the world”, second only to New York, maybe. Before packing my bags and leaving to London for good, I had only been there once, years earlier, with my parents. At the time, I was a teenage girl from a small village, in expedition to the “big city”. I loved every moment of it. The people from all over the world, the beautiful buildings and skyscrapers, the typical double-decker buses, the red phone cells. I felt like an extra in my beloved Harry Potter movies. At least that’s the way I remember it now – we all know memories start to shift and get distorted and look all rosy in hindsight.

Two years into my three years degree, my rose-tinted glasses have disappeared, the thrill of the “big city” had gone. I’m not trying to say that I don’t enjoy my time here, or that I regret going to university here. But I also think that London isn’t a city for everyone, and that there are many things to take into careful consideration before deciding to live here.¬†

London is expensive

I know this is a generally well-known fact, and something that (I thought) I was well aware of. However, what most people don’t realize is just how expensive London is, and what sort of impact this has on your day-to-day life. While my friends were staying in beautiful rooms in the centre of metropolitan cities like Berlin or Hamburg, I was paying two to three times as much for a tiny room (more like a box room, one might say) in the basement of an old, run-down building 40min away from uni, right next to a noisy road. And I actually spent these 40min walking back and forth to university because the travel card is so expensive.¬†

The nightlife isn’t as great as you might think.¬†

Speaking of money: you can easily spend 15-20 pounds only to enter a common night club – it is best to not even think about buying drinks there. The common solution therefore is to get drunk before going out – at which point you will realize that British tax regulation make that it isn’t possible to come by a bottle of red wine for less than ¬£5, for example. To top it off, most night clubs will kick you out at 3am, pubs even at 11pm during the week.

 

Expensive prices don’t mean higher salaries

A common misconception about London is that, as everything is so expensive, the employers are going to make up for it by increasing salaries, too. While it may be true that manager salaries in London are sky-high, this does by no means apply to any type of “unlearned work”, e.g. in hospitality or retail. Most employers merely pay the minimum wage, which is set incredibly low at ¬£6.31.

I lived with an Italian couple last year. Both had a good degree from a good university, but both didn’t get a “proper” job, so ended up working in a restaurant. What did this mean? They lived together in a tiny room, consisting of a bed and a bed side table, in a shared apartment in Zone 3, working 6 days a week and hardly able to afford anything. Does living in London really make up for that?

London isn’t big. It’s¬†huge.

London is the biggest city in Europe, more than 10 Million people live there. While most people are aware of this, what does it really mean? It doesn’t only mean that there are endless sights, museums, and areas to explore. It also means that you will, usually, not be able to even live one day without using the tube, or bus, or taxi. You will take the tube to work, to go out, to meet friends, to go shopping. Personally, I love getting to places by foot. In London, however, this is impossible: Even if you live in the centre, your friends, colleagues, acquaintances, family members will be scattered all over town, and you will spend your time getting pushed and stepped upon by hundreds of sweaty people hundreds of meters under the surface of the earth.

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As said above: I am still in love with and excited by London, its internationality and diversity. I’m just trying to convey the message that it isn’t all as bright and shiny as sometimes conveyed by media or friends, and that moving to London isn’t for everyone. After my graduation, I can say without doubt that my way is going to lead me somewhere else.

The Bucket List

A bucket list – what is it and why do people write one? Questions that are probably easy to answer for most of you. But might not be, either. Personally, I had never heard of anything like a bucket list until a couple of days ago when I stumbled across it in another blog. Quick Wikipedia search. No entry. ¬†Wiktionary says: “Derived from kick the bucket (“to die”) + list; hence “list of things to do before you die“.” Now this sounds interesting!

But what is the point of writing a bucket-list, actually? Well, first of all, it’s fun. Although at first my mind was pretty blank when I was trying to think of things, I quickly came up with more than 50 things I want to do! And quickly enough I started day-dreaming about how great it would be to actually do all these things. Which leads me to the next reason: it gets you thinking. Not just about these (maybe quite obscure) things you wrote down, but about your life in general, what you want to do and achieve and who you want to be. But before we blow this bucket list out of proportion, let’s get down to earth again: it is simply¬†a great feeling to cross out one of the things.¬†Which is probably why I started with the things that I really wanted to do and have already down (cheating? maybe).

I could probably come out with quite a few more reasons, but before I get carried anyway, here’s the actual list (finally!) (non-significant order, btw)

  1. try being vegetarian for a month
  2. live in Spain
  3. go to a boarding school
  4. climb pyramids in Mexico
  5. get my Bachelor and Master
  6. do an internship for a few months
  7. travel through South America
  8. try WWOOF
  9. try Couchsurfing
  10. travel South East Asia
  11. travel China
  12. learn how to dive
  13. learn how to surf
  14. speak Spanish and French fluently
  15. ride an Elephant
  16. see wales and dolphins
  17. see the Amazon
  18. drive a motor bike
  19. take a photography course
  20. hike in the desert
  21. go for a run everyday of a month
  22. travel for a few months by foot or bike, exclusively
  23. do a Safari
  24. learn how to dance Salsa (and dance it well!)
  25. work as a waitress
  26. work in a hostel
  27. be financially independent
  28. run a half-marathon
  29. write a blog – regularly!

Saint Christopher of the Houses….

IMG_0469Or better to say San Crist√≥bal de las Casas. Or possibly one of the most beautiful cities I have been to. I’m not sure why San Crist√≥bal fascinated me so much. The architecture? The people? The climate? Maybe rather the fact that I arrived there after having spent more than 6 weeks in a tropical climate, meaning constant 40¬į and humidityof something like 90%. Especially for someone who has spent most of her life either in Germany or England (keywords here: cold and rainy..), this is a lot to bear. So much the greater the relief of 25¬į, no rain, no clouds, no mosquitos (!) – and mountains! Not to forget that touristic town, which, despite the associated downsides, also entails a range of international restaurants – what can be better than a traditional Italian pizza after weeks of tacos on end! Especially if it comes with a price of about 35 Pesos (less than 2 Pounds). To top it off, I stayed in La Terraza Hostal, a hostel for the price of 5 Pounds per night with a lovely view of the town.¬†

65 days or 1560 hours or 93600 minutes

ImageOr the time I spent in Mexico during the summer 2013. About 4 months later (no, I’m not going to translate everything into days, hours and minutes…) I’ve finally decided it’s time to jot down some of those memories. Primarily I’m doing this for me – we all know how quickly we forget those little things that really made our time special and this is meant to be a resource for me to look back to those times and remember and live these moments and joys again. If other people find an interest in my posts – great! I’d love to hear everything about your thoughts or similar experiences. This blog isn’t going to be just about Mexico, however, (sooorry) I also want to write about my plans for the future (mainly travel plans…), others travel experiences and experiences living abroad. So I hope you enjoy this blog!