Many students study a foreign language while at college. Whether you’re taking classes to fulfill a language requirement, gain marketable job skills, or explore a particular country or culture that interests you, studying a foreign language can help you gain a competitive edge in an increasingly globalized workforce.
Language and culture classes equip students with necessary linguistic and intercultural skills to effectively communicate with a broad public; as Ludwig Wittgenstein famously pronounced: “The limits of my language are the limits of my world.” This said, studying a foreign language can be challenging, so let’s look at some resources many campuses provide to aid students in their linguistic pursuits.
The Basics: Talk with Your Professor and Study Smart
First things first: your foreign language professor is probably the best resource for help studying the language. Whether she is a native speaker of the language or somebody who has studied it for many years, your professor brings a wealth of experience in teaching and learning to the classroom. Ask questions during or after class, stop by office hours, or send an email if you find yourself struggling. All professors want their students to succeed and welcome opportunities to talk about strategies for language learning.
Knowing how to use your study time effectively is another effective resource you can utilize. Developing foreign language skills, like sports and music, requires regular, dedicated practice so it can be helpful to approach foreign language study in a similar manner to a sport or instrument. Just as you wouldn’t pull out your clarinet and attempt to play while watching Netflix or scrolling through Instagram, language study works best when you can focus completely on the task at hand. Setting aside regular hours for language practice, either by yourself or in a study group, will allow you to maximize your learning, perform better during class and—most importantly—see real gains in your language abilities.
Academic Support Services and Tutoring
Most campuses offer some type of academic support service that provides tutoring for students. The tutors are often advanced language students, and tutoring can take several different forms. Drop-in tutoring allows students to show up on an as-needed basis to work with an available tutor. This works well for students who need scheduling flexibility, although normally they are not able to pick a particular tutor but work with whomever may be available at the time they arrive. Regularly scheduled tutoring services pair students with a particular tutor with whom they will work for an extended period of time (often an entire semester). In this case, students and tutors may sign contracts that outline their commitment over a period of time. Finally, some language departments pair individual tutors with particular classes. In this case, tutors may provide one-on-one or small group sessions, either by appointment or regularly scheduled throughout the semester (such as an open study session the night before a written or oral exam). Whatever the model, working with a tutor can be an excellent resource for language learners.
Language Learning Centers (or Language Labs), Language Houses, and Language Tables
Many campuses have spaces dedicated to language learning. Language Learning Centers (or Language Labs) are usually in a classroom building and serve as a space to promote languages. They typically will have a comfortable gathering space, a computer lab, a selection of foreign-language movies or TV shows, games, or other resources designed to facilitate language learning. A Language House provides a housing option for students committed to long-term study of a language and culture. Students who choose to live in language houses pledge to speak only the foreign language when in the residence; often these houses will have a native speaker Resident Assistant, and residents spend time together preparing meals or participating in cultural events. Both Centers and Houses may host Language Nights, where a language assistant (often a graduate student teacher from a foreign country) will run games, movies, or other activities to allow students to practice their skills. Languages Tables meet in the cafeteria or Student Union and provide a place where students can practice their conversation skills with native speakers.
The rewards of language learning extend well beyond the classroom, and taking advantage of the many resources available for foreign language study can help you develop the capacity to thrive in an intercultural world.