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How and Why to Learn a New Language on Your Gap Year

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Learn a foreign language

So you’ve decided to take a gap year to explore the world a bit and figure out what you really want to do when you head to college. Now it’s time to plan what you’re going to do with all that time.

Let us humbly suggest using a portion of your gap year to learn a new language.

Why? If we’re being practical about it, knowing more than one language is an incredible resume-booster and can open lots of professional doors for you in the future. Foreign languages can help you out in less direct ways as well: Studying a new language can improve your analytical and interpretative abilities, and even your understanding of English.

Perhaps most importantly, knowing more than one language can help open up the world to you. You’ll get more out of travelling if you can engage with the language, and you may even become more open to new cultures and ways of thinking.

Options for learning a new language

  • Enroll in a formal language program abroad: Learn Arabic in Morocco or Spanish in Costa Rica with a gap year program specifically designed to maximize your instruction in language and culture. These programs generally involve intensive classroom time, coupled with curated field experiences (think cooking paella in Spain or practicing calligraphy in Shanghai) intended to expand your language skills and cultural knowledge. Consider a program with a homestay option for an extra level of immersion and authenticity.
  • Volunteer: Gap year community service programs offer a unique opportunity to learn a language while doing good. A range of programs exist with opportunities from environmental conservation to working in children’s homes, giving participants an unparalleled chance to learn a language through immersion. Many programs also offer language instruction to enhance communications. Again, keep an eye out for programs that encourage homestays to really boost your learning.
  • Keep it close to home: If finances, work, or other circumstances keep you from roaming the world in pursuit of language education, look for a local language school or check out course offerings at local community or state colleges. You won’t have the same level of immersion, but you can still make great progress toward multilingualism.

Keep the learning going

When you’re not in class or you are home from abroad, how can you keep your new fluency growing? Just keep practicing. Here are a few ideas:

  • Read, read, read: Find children’s books in your new language, read news articles, browse websites.
  • Don’t worry about making mistakes: It is natural for new speakers in any language to be hesitant about trying out their new skills with native speakers. But go ahead and engage — people mostly love it when you try to connect in their own language and will be pretty forgiving.
  • Find a practice partner: Conversational practice is essential to keeping up your speaking skills. So schedule regular calls with a friend you met in class or make a standing coffee date with a local native speaker.
  • Tap into technology: Keep Google Translate at the ready so you can decipher new words as you come across them. And look into language-learning apps like Duolingo or Babbel to keep building your new skills.

And remember: Learning a new language can be difficult and frustrating, but the benefits make it an ideal endeavour for a gap year.

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Sarah Good is a journalist who has covered everything from small town elections to international financial fraud. She is also private tutor with more than 10 years experience unraveling the mysteries of standardized tests and college applications.