Peer Advisor Thomas Kuklinski

5 Tips for Maintaining Language Skills at Home

One of my biggest priorities while studying abroad was improving my Mandarin language ability. I figured that studying in Taiwan was the best place to do it. Language immersion was not only a part of my daily life, but I was also able to take 10 hours of Mandarin classes a week, so naturally my language skills skyrocketed. But this also meant that when I got home, my biggest fear was losing all my progress. Obviously nothing beats living abroad, (but I’m not sure when I’ll be able to do that again) however, with a little extra effort, I’ve been able to hold my ground with my Mandarin language ability all the way from Gilbertsville, PA. Here are my best tips for keeping your language skill while living at home.

1 Change your phone language

This sounds annoying but hear me out. How often do you actually read, process, and register the fine print on your phone’s interface? Doesn’t everyone already have their phone memorized? Like when you forgot to charge your phone and it says “Battery Low. Enter Low Power Mode?” That’s not new information. Regardless of the language, you can figure it out through context. Also, a lot of websites determine their language setting based off of your phone’s language, not your location. Even when I was in Taiwan, I’d still come across English ads, English YouTube recommendations, and English webpages. But now, I’m automatically exposed to more content in Mandarin just because of this simple fix. This can be a challenge though, and some mobile sites and services can be more difficult to navigate than others. For instance, one time I tried setting up a UPS account on their Mandarin site to track a package, and gave up after three tries. Who’s at fault? Their web design? My language skills? We may never know.

Also, just a tip, remember to change your temperature setting to Celcius. It’s essentially a part of learning a foreign language because like, nothing breaks you out of your foreign fluency fantasy than saying, “uhhh idk what that is in Celsius.”

2 Break out the old textbooks

Look at all this untapped knowledge at my disposal. 

I don’t know about you, but I have never finished a language textbook in a semester. When I was in Taiwan, our textbooks had 20 chapters, and we did 15, which honestly is a pretty high completion rate, but still left a decent amount of new material untouched. For my writing intensive and Chinese culture classes here at Temple, I only got through like, 4-5 out of 10 chapters in the textbooks. Now, in my free time, I’m finishing those chapters on my own. I remember how class went, so I’m just recreating class assignments with the new material – flashcards, writing quizzes, notes, exercises, the whole nine yards. If your teacher was an overachiever and your class covered the whole book, (or more likely, you held onto old textbooks for the next semester)there’s gotta be some unfinished exercises in your old textbooks somewhere, be it homework you were too busy to finish, or assignment reviews at the end of the chapter. Leave no stone unturned.

3 Dual readers and subtitles

Me trying to read the subtitles and watch the action at the same time.

These are fun. Dual readers are fascinating because it’s like hearing the same story from two different people. Plus, if you’re a translation nerd like me, you get to see first hand how authors and translators interact. Sometimes the whole structure of a paragraph changes, or sometimes the words don’t have true equivalents in the target language and authors need to get creative. Plus, with the translation on the other page, you save so much time you would have spent translating the work. Subtitles, however, are a completely different animal. Most shows move at such a speed that you don’t get a chance to appreciate the nuance of subtitle translations. But it is incredibly helpful in increasing your sight recognition ability because you’re automatically making a connection between an English word and its translated equivalent.

4 Keep in touch with your friends abroad

This one sounds obvious, but if you’re anything like me, replying to a text message is a chore already. Compound that with the challenge of having to speak in your second language, and… it really is ghosting because the amount of effort already killed me. But seriously, keeping in touch with them is not only helpful, it’s important. Remember, studying abroad was a big part of your life. You gotta keep in touch. They were part of a formative time in your life and you should keep that connection alive.

See, I don’t have any unread messages. I am a good person.

5 Find recipes for when you’re home-away-from-home sick

Disclaimer, this recipe is not applicable for the previous image, but it is a good recipe.

I miss getting a neat little box of pan-fried dumplings from Taiwan’s night markets. Actually, I miss a lot of Taiwanese food. Fortunately, I like cooking, so with a little trial and error and the occasional ingredient substitution, I’ve been able to recreate a few of my favorite dishes from abroad back home. Listen, I’m sure that there are some great English language resources out there for Taiwanese recipes, but I prefer to watch Taiwanese YouTube cooking tutorials. Sometimes they even have English subtitles! I also frequent a few Taiwanese cooking websites if I wanna track down a specific recipe. These websites were pretty easy to find, too. All I needed to do was search the name of the food + recipe in Mandarin online like a Taiwanese person would, and the recipe showed up pretty quickly. It’s a great way of keeping in touch with the culture while gaining some first hand language experience.

All this has showed me that a few simple adjustments to my daily life can dramatically increase the amount of exposure to Mandarin language content. I’m not gonna lie, some of these changes did take some getting used to, but it was definitely worth it in the long run. Besides, once I do get back over there, I gotta hit the ground running.

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