For many students in the UK and across the world, the summer holidays are approaching quicker than ever. Many of you, like me, are probably studying a foreign language at school or college at the moment, and may be wondering how you will survive going back to school in September after 6+ weeks without having foreign language lessons (well I certainly am anyway, maybe I’m just weird haha).
So, as a year 12 student studying A Level French – and taking my exams next summer due to the linear A Levels – who needs to ensure I’m still practicing French over summer, I come bearing a list of ways to keep up language practice, so by the time it gets to September you (hopefully) haven’t forgotten it all! I’ve come up with a few ideas about how you can practice each aspect of language learning – reading, writing, listening and speaking – so hopefully they’ll be helpful to some of you.
Reading is a really, really great way to keep up language practice. I mean, if you’re a bookworm like me, then why not read books in your target language? Books are relaxing to read, and you can find a genre or author that interests you – there are so many foreign language book lists on Goodreads! Even just reading a couple of pages a day will help make sure you’re being exposed to the language and the more you read, the more vocab you’ll learn and the more you will see grammar rules in practice; basically, it will give you a better grasp of how the written language is formed!
It can be hard to find books that are the right level for your skills in your target language. If you’re just starting out, children’s books are a good idea as they’ll have more simple vocabulary and sentence structures. But if you’re at GCSE level or A Level, you could try reading version of books you’ve already read in English in your target language – for example last summer after I finished GCSE French, I read the first Harry Potter book in French. Often you’re local library will have at least some foreign language books, or you can use their online catalogue to reserve books and get them delivered to your library.
Also I think most A Level foreign language specifications will have a set book list, as you will usually have to study a book as part of the course, but that doesn’t mean you can’t read the other books on the list too!
Another way of practicing your reading is by reading magazines. There’s a really good French magazine called “Ça m’intresse” which covers a load of current themes in society, and a lot of topics relevant to A Level. You’ll have to order them online unless your school or college has them in the library, but one copy would cost roughly £5 including delivery costs, or you can download the digital copy which is obviously cheaper. If not, you can always read articles in your target language on news websites (and Ça m’intresse even has a range of free articles on their website which you can read too).
Keeping up with writing practice can be quite time-consuming and tedious, but it will help you to recal all of the grammar rules and tenses you need to know, as well as practice vocab.
Some simple ways of practicing writing would be to write a few sentences at the end of each week, talking about what you’ve done that week and what you plan to next week. In the run up to my exams, I’ve been doing this by trying to write a sentence in each French tense at the end of each week in my diary.
You could also write some blog posts in your target language, which I will definitely be doing over the summer.
Or, if you do read some articles in your target language over the summer, you could practise summarising the foreign language articles using synonyms which will help both your writing and be good practice for exams (as certainly in French A Level exams we are required to read short passages and summarise them in our own words).
Another thing you could do is set up a Twitter account in your target language, and try tweeting in the language you are learning. You can also follow native speakers or newspaper/magazine accounts in your target language, which will help with your reading too.
Practicing your listening skills doesn’t have to mean sitting down and doing listening past papers and activities provided by your exam board – the internet offers a variety of ways to practice listening!
Firstly, you can listen to international radio stations on your phone or the internet, which is a great way to test your listening skills and discover artists who sing in your target language. Some French radio stations which I listen to include Radio Nostalgie (which you can listen to for free via their mobile app – they play a mixture of 70s/80s/90s music) but there is a huge list here that includes French radio stations that broadcast anything from news to pop to classical music.
Another way is by listening to music in your target language itself. This can sometimes be difficult to find, but there are some good Spotify foreign language playlists – and I’ve created my own French one which I may write a post about in the future!
The there’s also the wealth of foreign language resources provided by YouTube. Sometimes it’s possible to watch old films and TV series in your target language on here for free. For example I watched a French series called “Extra” which was made specifically for French language learners, so it uses fairly simple language and comedy to help you understand. Also there will be many YouTubers who are native speakers of your target language – one French YouTuber I’ve started watching recently is Anatastesia – she makes a wide variety of videos, many in French so hopefully there’ll be something you like!
Finally buying and watching DVDs in your target language – or films on Netflix – will be invaluable practice for your listening skills. You may have to watch the films with English subtitles or watch them multiple times to understand fully, but it will be great practice and it will also immerse you into the culture of your target language as well. I recently bought some second-hand French DVDs on Amazon for 10p with £1.20 delivery – so they’re not always expensive! I may also do a separate post on French film recommendations at some point too as I’ve watched quite a few french films – some better than others haha.
Speaking may seem to be one of the hardest things to practice, because often you don’t have someone to hand that can speak your target language and are willing to have a conversation with you. But, do not fear, because actually talking to yourself is also good practice. For example, you could just challenge yourself to talk for 60 seconds in your target language each day about what you’ve been doing or what the weather’s like etc. If you want, you can record yourself speaking and see your progress. Sometimes even just narrating what’s going on in the moment in your target language helps!
Speaking is actually a lot easier to practice than you might think – for example you don’t have to focus on reading a foreign language book, or remember spellings and accent placements as you do when you’re reading or writing. Speaking practice can be as quick and simple as you want it to be.
Another great resource for speaking practice I’ve found recently is the website and app “Forvo”. Within this app, you can practice your pronunciation. You chose a level to start at – I recommend choosing beginner whatever your level as it you’ll learn more vocab – and you’ll be shown a virtual flashcard with a word in your target language on it. Then you have to say that word, flip the card, hear how a native speaker pronounces it then you can rate whether you failed, were good or found it easy etc. Then the app will keep bringing up the words you struggle with until you’ve rated them easy, then you can move on and learn new words. I highly recommend it, as pronounciation is a large part of speaking a foreign language, and learning how to say things properly can really boost your confidence in speaking your target language.
Finally I want to talk about the app HelloTalk. This app fundamentally allows you to talk to native speakers over message or through voice recordings. At first I was a little skeptical about how safe the app would be, but generally my experience so far has been good! I think you have to be at least 13 to use the app, and after you’ve put in your age, it’ll only allow people within a 2-3 year age difference to you to be able to find your profile and contact you. It also has all the options for blocking people if needs be. So far, it’s been very useful to me. It’ll show you native speakers who are most suited to you based on age and competency level in their target language, and you can the see their profiles and see their interests to find a suitable language partner. Everyone I’ve talked to already seems really friendly, and I find their voice recording option really useful, as I’ve been able to send and receive voice messages from a native speaker in Algeria over the past few days. Also with the text messages, your language partner can correct your mistakes using their great correction feature, which has been really useful too! All I would say is to make sure you don’t put personal details on their, as with any platform that allows you to come into contact with strangers, and obviously if anyone is acting inappropriately towards you, block and report them.
So, that’s pretty much exhausted my tips for keeping up language practice over the summer holidays, but if you have any more to share, let me know below and best of luck to ayone taking exmas at the moment. 🙂