Despite learning a language for years at school, when the opportunity arises for us to use our skills we often chicken out. This is understandable as using a language in a native speaking country is quite different to using them in a classroom.
However, it is important that nerves don't stop you from using your language skills, as a year abroad is the perfect opportunity to improve in a safe environment.
Plus it’ll enrich your experience and help you get involved with day-to-day life in and outside the university, not to mention earning you a new or improved skill to take home with you.
This is the key. It doesn’t matter how good you are – there is always room for improvement. You may count yourself as fluent, but there is almost certainly some conversational slang you have yet to learn, and immersing yourself in the day-to-day language of your host country will teach you this.
Studying the language at home will give you the grounding knowledge of grammar, tenses and basic language that you need, but that’s basically it. Only by being confident enough to talk to locals and brave enough to learn from your mistakes, can you be sure to learn something more.
It doesn’t matter how confident you are speaking to your international friends in your new language, without losing your language safety net you will not learn as fast or as much.
If you decide to stay with a host family this problem could be solved for you. Despite the fact that they might know your native language, they will naturally speak in their own so you will be forced to learn and converse along.
If you are living in halls or with other international students, you will have to make a little more effort. Try and make friends with native speakers; you will find friendships spark up just as easily abroad as they would at home.
4 top tips to improve your language skills
Read magazines. This is a great way to get started, as they are written in an easy, conversational style and are often about topics you are already familiar with, such as celebrities, books and films.
Research the country. If you arrive with a basic knowledge of the current economic climate, political situation and the country’s history, it could help you make sense of conversations just by understanding the odd word.
Go out alone. If you're feeling less confident about your language skills than your international friends, you may let them do all the talking and therefore your skills won’t improve. No matter how apprehensive you are, wander out into the town alone occasionally. By throwing yourself in at the deep-end you will be forced into using the language and may discover it’s not as scary as you thought.
Go to a class. This doesn’t necessarily have to be a language class, though taking a Direct Immersion Class will probably prove extremely helpful. Continue your interests from home while you're abroad and learn about them in a new light. Join a reading group and read a foreign novel, watch and discuss foreign films or play sport.