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How to learn a second language at university

Hola, bonjour, nǐ hǎo! If you’re interested in learning a foreign language while at uni, you’ve picked the perfect place to start.

So it turns out all those night-and-day sessions spent in the library, numerous extracurricular activities and weeks of interning are no longer enough.

With competition on the job market getting tougher by the day, you’ve got to go the extra mile to blow employers away.

So how exactly do students make themselves stand out in a competitive job market and increase their employability? One of the best places to start is in learning another language!

Why is it important to learn a second language?

We’ll make this part easy by slimming it down to five all-important reasons why you should try learning a new language at uni (although there are loads more):

  1. Increase your chances of employment – Plenty of businesses either have offices abroad or are keen to branch out into the global market, meaning employees with more than one language are extremely valuable. And even if they aren’t after someone with language skills, being bilingual shows that you’re keen to better yourself and learn something new!
  2. Earn easy money – Have you ever looked into how you can use your language skills to make cash? Many companies rely on translators to carry out their global communication, and as this is such an important task, they normally pay really well (and you can work remotely). Or, if you’re really fluent in a second language, you can also become a private tutor (and charge from £10+ per hour!) to teach others your new language
  3. Make travelling easier – It sounds obvious, but learning another language will help you communicate when you’re in a foreign country. Not only will this make life a whole lot easier for yourself, but it could alter your experience of the country entirely. Imagine how much better your trip will be for catching word about a secret bar or small village festival that only the locals know about!
  4. Open up new doors – Languages have the potential to open a whole load of new doors that you may never have known even existed. Sure, you might’ve set your heart on advertising as a career, but had you ever considered being a diplomat, ski instructor, professional translator or language teacher?
  5. Exercise your brain – Studies show that with the increased use of the internet and social media, our brains are beginning to develop differently – with the left side of your brain becoming quicker but less able to retain what you learn. A great way to counter this is to learn something new, such as a language, as this helps to keep your learning processes and memory in check.

How to learn a second language at university

Once you’ve decided which language you’d like to learn, it’s time to sort out your plan of action. Many language-learning options are available while you’re at university, so it’s a good idea to do your research and take advantage of this while you still can.

Here are a few options that will be available – have a look through and decide which option works best for you, and get on it!

  1. Enrol on a free language course at your university

    Plenty of universities offer free language courses to their own students, so this should be your first port of call.

    In some instances the courses may only be available to students from specific departments, but it’s definitely worth enquiring in case they’re flexible with who let they let in.

    Although the languages on offer will probably be restricted to the more popular ones (we’re talking French, Spanish, Chinese etc.), a free language course taught by your university is certainly not to be sniffed at!

  2. Take a language module as part of your degree

    Many universities allow (or even require) that you take a unit or module outside of your main subject, so it’s possible to learn a language as part of your degree without adding to your overall workload.

    In your first year it’s likely that there’ll be a wide variety of beginners’ courses in everything from French to Russian. In other words, if you didn’t study the language at school, it shouldn’t be a problem!

    However, we’d recommend speaking with your personal tutor or someone in your department before term starts. As common as they are, open units aren’t available on every course – so it’s best to be sure!

  3. Study abroad or go on holiday

    The summer break is your perfect opportunity to go abroad for a month or more to learn a new language (while getting a tan, of course).

    Learning a language in a country where it’s actually spoken is the easiest and quickest way to learn, as you’re constantly putting every new word and expression into practice.

    Alternatively, do some research into whether your uni offer an Erasmus/year abroad program in the country where your language is spoken – this could be your big chance!

    Erasmus and year abroad programs usually entail no extra cost in terms of your tuition fees (sometimes it’s even cheaper!), and you should be able to receive at least a portion of your Maintenance Loan too. What’s more, you might be able to work while you’re out there – another great opportunity to fine tune your new tongue.

    And don’t worry if you’re a bit daunted by the prospect of living abroad with basic language skills – before you depart, you’ll most likely be given free languages classes by your uni!

  4. Teach yourself a language

    Companies such as Rosetta Stone provide language software that uses images, text, sounds, and videos to teach you the vocabulary and grammar of a new language.

    The beauty of self-teaching is that it’s easy to fit it around your schedule. If you find you have a free evening or just want a break from uni work, you can teach yourself from the comfort of your own home.

    However, with even the most basic Rosetta Stone courses costing well over £100, you might want to consider putting it on your Christmas or birthday wish list!

    If you’ve been priced out of trying Rosetta Stone, worry not – there are also free online learning options too! Duolingo is probably the most well-known, has great reviews and is available as an app – perfect for brushing up while you’re out and about.

    But Duolingo isn’t the only app/online-based language learning tool – Memrise, TripLingo and Hellolingo are just a few of the others that are held in high regard and make for a convenient way to learn a language.

    These resources often have free and paid-for versions which offer varying levels of exercises and languages to learn. Nonetheless, even the free versions are a pretty safe bet for learning European languages to a decent level.

    Finally, if you’d like an offline alternative, you could head to your university library to see if they have any useful resources, like foreign language dictionaries or language learning software on the computers. If not, head to Amazon or eBay and scout out some cheap exercise books to supplement your online learning with some written exercises.

  5. Join one of your university’s language societies

    This option should really be applied in conjunction with one of others on this list, as most language societies at uni don’t actually offer tuition.

    However, what they do offer is an ideal place to improve and build on your language skills. At language society meet-ups there’ll be a variety of activities including screenings of foreign language films and trips abroad to the country of your chosen language.

    Most importantly, however, you’ll have a real opportunity to practice your speaking skills. Most members of the society will probably be able to speak the language to some extent, but many will be beginners like you, meaning there’s no pressure to be word-perfect!

    Above all, language societies are a great social environment to make new friends and turn learning a language into the fun and fulfilling experience it should be.

  6. Take part in a language exchange

    If your university has a large number of international students, a language exchange could be pretty easy to sort out.

    There will be many international students arriving in the UK who are desperate to brush up on their English. Lots of them will be extremely grateful for an hour or two of your time each week to practice and ask any language-related questions they have.

    In exchange for your time, you could ask them to teach you their mother tongue!

    The key is to find keen students who speak the language you want to learn. Use uni noticeboards and post on university Facebook groups to advertise your proposal – you’ll be pleasantly surprised by the response.

  7. Try a local adult education course

    Most local councils offer adult education courses, and languages are usually a permanent fixture on their timetables.

    Classes will usually take place during evenings and weekends, although if your lecture schedule is looking pretty scarce, it might be worth seeing if any daytime classes are running too.

    Prices vary, but some councils offer discounted prices for low-income households or students – so you may be able to get it extremely cheaply.

    If your council doesn’t run courses, check noticeboards in local churches, charity shops, supermarkets or newsagents, as often language teachers will advertise their classes there.

So, what are you waiting for? Add some va va voom (see what we did there) to your life and learn another language! Let us know if you have any great language-learning tips to share!