Improving your Foreign Language Skills: The Best Tricks in the Book


Speaking different languages is crucial in our globalized world: not only can it make your CV look impressive and help you stand out from others, but it also aids in communication skills, cognitive abilities, and opening one’s mind. 

Yet, with a student’s busy schedule, it may be challenging to practice and keep up with the progress of learning a language. 

1. Linguistic and Cultural Immersion 

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Yes. You’ve heard this before. But it works! 

Of course, we do not all have the opportunity to stay in our language’s host countries, but we can try to emulate that feeling by watching movies, listening to music, and reading in your language.

These acts will help you improve your grammar and broaden your vocabulary – but also gain a newfound understanding and appreciation for the language. 

Interacting with the media can expose you to slang and a more “natural” way of speaking – not what you hear in class. 

Beware! You will need more than just doing the passive act of watching a movie to make progress in your language skills. 

Benny Lewis, an Irish author and polyglot emphasizes that one must study the film by choosing one (with subtitles), breaking it down into smaller sections, writing down phrases or new words, speaking with the characters, and watching it again! 

Tip: If you are unfamiliar with the language, just a beginner, try watching children’s movies. These tend to speak slower and over pronounce words for small kids.

You can also use children’s books. 

2. Practice with a Native Speaker 

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Another cliché you have likely heard before – but what is the point of studying a language if one does not practice? 

Speaking a language helps cement your knowledge but also helps bridge the gaps in your understanding. Exposure to language also accustoms you to hear it daily while training your mind. 

Ask one of your friends who are native speakers to talk to you in their language. 

Remember! This won’t magically improve the language you are learning after the first try, as you must make this a habit. 

3. Personalized Learning 

It’s up to you to learn a language. No one except you can improve it; this means taking matters into your own hands. 

Don’t simply rely on a class or a syllabus. Use outside methods and subscription-based apps like Duolingo or Babbel, or keep learning through YouTube channels. 

Remember that you are improving and understanding a foreign language, not learning it, per se – so you need to identify the gaps in your understanding and fill them in. 

You can use other outside resources – like exercise on the internet. These should complement and serve as a review of what you have learned, cementing your understanding. 

Beware! Methods like Duolingo or grammar exercises, although all efficient ways to understand and improve, will not help you achieve fluency. You need to complement this with actually speaking and embracing the language. 

Tip: Don’t overwhelm yourself.

Around 15 to 20 minutes daily is better than studying for 2 hours in one sitting. 

4. Creating Habits 

Consistency is critical; incorporating a language into your daily life will significantly help you improve. Although these measures may be tough – they are effective. 

Change your default language on your computer and phone, and try and network in this language. Not only do you learn more vocabulary, but you get used to hearing it in a daily context. 

These don’t have to be boring! Try playing games with your friends in this language. 

For example, instead of playing charades in English – where people have to act out, do it in a different language.

Even writing your grocery store list in your language is a step forward! 

5. Embrace your Mistakes

Mistakes are an essential part of making progress. We need mistakes to know what our weaknesses are. So, embrace them! 

Don’t be afraid to be wrong. 

But it’s vital to learn from them. Keep a journal or use Post-Its to note something you didn’t understand, struggled with, or got wrong. This is the place where you learn from. 

By returning and studying this, you will remember and start getting better. 

6. Writing, Reading, and Speaking

These are the core of language learning!

First, identify your forte, your weakness, and which you are ‘okay’ at.

Once you have done this, you will know which to focus more individual time on – even though they are all linked at the end of the day.

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Improving a language can be difficult, but keep yourself from getting burnt out. Take this time as an exercise for your mind, but also give yourself some breaks. Making progress doesn’t have to be complicated! Enjoy it! 

Christina Brusco
Christina Brusco
Editor of the Lifestyle Section in Segovia and second-year LLB-BIR student.

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