As with many things in life, acquiring a second language is truly an art - it’s an enriching and, at times, frustrating process that requires time and commitment to perfect. For some, this perfection is known as fluency, which is a concept that is surprisingly hard to define. Others regard it as reaching the more advanced C levels according to the Common European Framework. When you find yourself in B2 level, you are able to understand and engage in the local tongue (which others might consider gibberish), however, you still don’t have that natural way of thinking and phrasing - at this stage, you may have captured the brain of the language, but not its heart.
Whilst this can be incredibly disheartening at times, do not fear, my dear multilingual friends. Help is at hand! Follow these steps and you will be a word wizard of many a tongue in no time!
1. Talk to the locals
Obviously this seems like a no-brainer, but you would be surprised how easy it is for people to ignore this advice, particularly if they have made friends mostly with fellow exchange students. However, not only are the native speakers of your adopted language a key source for the new and exciting vocabulary and colloquial expressions needed to raise your language level, but they also help you engage in the mindset of the country, which is crucial to attaining the fluency you truly desire. If you have struggled to make local friends, however, there are many great sites you can try, such as Languing. Languing is a website that offers a tandem exchange programme over video-chat, so users can improve their chosen language. It’s completely free, and also an amazing opportunity to meet people you may not have had the chance to meet otherwise.
2. Watch TV - the trashier, the better
Not only is "trash" TV highly addictive and thus more likely to suck you into its repugnant clutches, helping you retain your language exposure, but it is also an incredible source of colloquial language. You can learn more natural expressions that people actually use on a day-to-day basis, rather than just the formal ones that we usually learn through more high-brow literature and in an academic setting. Having said that, maybe don't completely neglect watching the news or engaging in perhaps more culturally-acceptable television once in a while.
3. Practice papers
Although you usually have to pay a rather large amount of money to take a language level exam, most of the larger exam boards do offer free practice papers online, through which you can mark your progress and see which areas could do with improving. DELE (Diplomas de Español como Lengua Extranjero), for any Spanish learners out there, is an incredibly helpful source, as they offer plenty of papers and materials for you to use and engage with.
4. Listen to podcasts
As well as being a quick and easy tool to use, which fits perfectly around your busy working life and social schedule, podcasts ensure that you can engage with a wide range of vocabulary and quirky grammar that you not have been taught, as you listen to real people converse about topics not taught in the classroom. Another way this differs from your language-learning school days is that you don’t need to worry about the material.
5. Good old-fashioned grammar exercises
As horrendously boring as they are, grammar exercises are an incredibly useful way to ensure you attain that C1 level you so desperately want. Not only do they help highlight the areas you are perhaps weaker in, but they are actually vital in ensuring that your mind adapts to the way of thinking of the language's native speakers. This is because grammar actually holds within its heinous structures and regulations the underlying philosophy of its people. Therefore, by busting out those books once in a while, you can burst out of the B2 bubble you find yourself trapped in.
6. Try the Language Transfer Program on Soundcloud.
Although perhaps best suited to native English speakers, this is an excellent way to improve your language skills. The Language Transfer Program may start from the very basics you are trying to transcend, but it’s a brilliant course to follow as not only is it completely free, but it thoroughly explains the reasoning behind aspects of languages. Its structure is specifically designed to suit a paper-free learning experience and it is created with the psychology of the brain in mind.
Despite your best efforts, there will still be days where you just can't get it right. You will make so many obvious mistakes that you will begin to regret your entire existence, as well as wondering why you even bothered trying to learn another language. However, it is important to remember that it’s a process; you're always going to have good days and bad days. With time, the worse days begin to become fewer, until you realise that, actually, you're doing far better than you thought you would.
Written by Emma Cary