by Luke Smith
Fluency in a non-native language takes consistent effort. Whether you’re just beginning or you’ve achieved a good level of fluency, you can only maintain this by use. Your commitment to learning will also help you to grow into a skilled and often creative multicultural communicator.
But let’s face it, there are times when your linguistic learning and development can fall by the wayside. The holiday period can be particularly impactful in this regard. There’s always a lot going on and your formal learning may be taking a break. Before you know it, you’ve started the new year with a little rust in your practice.
This doesn’t mean you need to abandon the fun of the season in favor of knuckling down. There are ways you can embrace the holidays while also serving your language learning needs.
Find New Ways to Celebrate
Learning a new language isn’t just about getting the grammar and vocabulary right. There are key cultural elements too. These can direct the context of the sentences you speak and inflect the tone. Not to mention that learning about the culture helps to bring you closer to the native speakers of the language.
You can therefore keep developing your skills by engaging with the seasonal cultural aspects of the country in question. This isn’t just about sending a multilingual season’s greeting message to your friends and family who may not have any interest in the language. Aim for authenticity. Reach out to native speakers to understand how celebrations are performed in their culture. Add some of these different celebrations into your routine.
Traveling to the language’s country of origin to immerse yourself is always positive. But as a result of COVID-19, this may not be possible and you might have had to cancel your plans. This doesn’t mean you can’t create positive holiday experiences through alternative options, like a virtual party. This doesn’t have to be complicated, just a shared meal or hangout over Skype or Zoom.
Make arrangements with native speakers you were planning to meet with on your trip and engage them to help you plan your culturally relevant virtual get-together. This could include spending time together talking about each other’s holiday experiences growing up. By making these arrangements and being disciplined about speaking primarily in the foreign language during the event, you can keep making progress.
Engage with the Community
Not everybody is fortunate enough to be able to travel abroad or connect online to friends in other countries. But you still have options to create useful and positive language relationships during the holiday season. Wherever you live there are likely to be opportunities to engage with the community of native speakers in the language you’re seeking to learn or improve on.
You can approach this from the perspective of making a positive impact in the community at a time of year when things can get especially difficult for some. Local social workers have the responsibility to address the continuous community challenges of child welfare, mental health, substance abuse among others. Part of their remit will often be performing outreach to immigrant populations and potentially refugees. If you have achieved a good degree of fluency, you can keep making improvements and maintain your practice by reaching out to social workers and other community professionals. Offer your assistance in communication.
Social or public health professionals may also be able to direct you to other volunteer groups you can engage with. Homeless shelters may be able to make use of your linguistic skills to help translate information both in person and on documentation. Food banks may need you to help communicate their services to at-risk immigrant populations. You can make a difference while also leveling up.
If you’re still operating at a beginner or intermediate level, you can interact with the community on a fun and enriching basis. In a larger town or city, there is likely to be a section of native speakers in your area. Particularly if you’re learning one of the most commonly spoken foreign languages in the U.S. Reach out and enquire about any winter events you can attend to make new friends and practice your skills.
Keep a Routine
A solid routine of practice is key to making sure you maintain and build on your language skills. However, with holiday activities and unexpected social gatherings common during the holidays, it’s easy to let otherwise well-honed practices slip. Not to mention that it’s a time for fun and you want to minimize anything feeling like a chore.
It can therefore be helpful to put together a specific holiday language learning routine. Singing has long been considered an effective way to improve pronunciation, engagement, and recall when developing foreign language skills. There are plenty of holiday songs in most languages you can learn and have fun with. Watching holiday movies in your new language can be helpful, too.
At periods where you have a lot of downtime, you might want to engage in a few linguistic projects. This could be something significant like translating your business blog, or relatively minor such as writing your holiday gift shopping lists in your target language without dictionaries or tools. Just add in a few challenging and creative ways to keep your practice running.
Alongside your solo efforts, it can be more fun and motivating to get a friend involved. The holidays are a good time to gift a language learning course to a friend you know is interested in gaining these skills. Though you’ll be operating at different levels, you can improve by talking about the interesting aspects of the culture and practicing together.
The holidays can be a tough time to keep up with your language skills. But if you’re committed to maintaining your development there are steps you can implement. Seek out opportunities for virtual parties with friends abroad and engage with community organizations that may need your skills. It can also be wise to keep a fun but productive holiday practice routine. With a little extra effort, you can boost your abilities without missing the fun of the season.