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The basics
Study abroad : Before you leave

3 Unusual ways to improve your language skills

man listening to a podcast on the train

If you’re planning to study in a language which is not your first, you may be a little nervous prior to beginning.  Not only do you have to follow lectures and seminars at a high standard, but you need to be able to converse socially, and simply live in that country.


The good news is that if you have been accepted by your chosen university, having completed the required language tests (e.g. IELTS), they are confident in your ability. Keep this in mind if you start to worry.


There is still time to incorporate a few simple tips which can help sharpen your language skills. These are a bit more fun, and less intense than further tutorials or courses. Additionally, with these tips, you’re more likely to be exposed to more conversational language. However, don’t be too concerned about learning every single colloquialism or regional phrase; it should be more about familiarising yourself to the language, so you feel confident that you can keep up.


Listen to podcasts

Learning a new language through audio-tapes has long been viewed as an excellent “crash-course” method to get through holidays and business trips. Learning through audio also means you can do multi-task, like travel or cook as you take in this new knowledge. However, the subjects featured in these can be a little dry or plain, or feel like work. If you already have a grasp of a language and you just want to sharpen your ear to it, podcasts can provide long conversations around subjects you are interested in. This subject can be a television show, or a particular hobby; there really is a podcast about everything! Plus, by already having a knowledge of names and terms around that interest, it will be more enjoyable, and give you a tangible context to apply what you learn.

Good for: Listening skills


Eat out

This might be our favourite as it involves eating a lot of delicious food, including those from other countries. People love talking about food, almost as much as they like actually eating it (just close your mouth while you do so). It can be a very social experience if you experiment with dishes, make recommendations and share experiences of things you have tried in the past. Find restaurants which specialise in the kind of cuisine you will be eating when away, and order in that language. It’s excellent practice for such scenarios when you move. Plus, you won’t necessarily be able to find the food or ingredients you’re used to (unless you’re willing to pay more).

Good for: Speaking, reading skills


Watching TV and films

Watching television and film is a popular route through which we are introduced to a new culture or country. They can also serve as the perfect ice-breaker for conversations when you move in those first few days of meeting new people. If possible, watch these in their original language, or change the audio settings on the device you’re watching them on. It’s a simple trick to gauge your ability, and you can rewind if you miss something. Again, if you’re already familiar with the programme or film, it can be a nice step in gaining confidence in your abilities. Watching with subtitles can also help with your writing ability, including word order.

Good for:  Listening, reading skills


Read more:

Read our full guide to the IELTS test

Compare IELTS and TOEFL

Learn about pathways courses

Browse English as a Foreign Language courses

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