I am sure all of you remember those daunting vocabulary tests at school: 100 new words to memorise per week, all of them collected in neat alphabetical order, that you then had to reproduce on a piece of paper in the first 5 minutes of class. As a result, most of us learnt to recite 'abandon, ability, abroad, absence' beautifully, but when it came to actually using these words in a sentence, all of us were baffled to the point of doubting whether we would ever dare go near a foreigner at all.
One of the goals of the Council of Europe in creating the European Day of Languages was to encourage people to view language learning in a new light: instead of treating it as a compulsory burden at school, they would like the citizens of Europe to realise its importance as a key tool in accessing other cultures, understanding plurilingualism and appreciating diversity.
The Day of Languages is celebrating its 12th anniversary on 26th September this year and is hoped to provide a continuation to the achievements of the European Year of Languages 2001, during which a big emphasis was on teaching people enjoyable ways to improve their language skills. To celebrate the initiative, here is a list of some uncommon, but nevertheless, extremely useful ways to develop your skills.
Words are all around us!
We read thousands of words every day without even being aware of it and best of all, when we have read a word a few times, we tent to remember it! This fact has been successfully used and abused for advertising, so why not turn it to our advantage and use it for language learning? All you have to do is produce a few cards with the names of the objects around you and stick it on them. When you read the word 'armadio' on your cupboard every day before taking your clothes out of it, you will be surprised how quickly it will become part of your vocabulary!
Language is not an abstract science
It is essentially there so that people can communicate! So why not join one of the various language clubs near your home where people come together once ever week to practise their spoken language skills? With interesting topics and good company, all that anxiety about making mistakes is soon going to disappear, too!
Find yourself a pen pal!
There are numerous websites where you can pick a friend from a database of thousands of native speakers of the language you aim to learn and who might, in exchange, be interested in learning some of your language. It does not matter if you decide to write traditional snail mails or Facebook each other, the most important thing is that with each envelope in the post-box, you are one step closer to being a proficient speaker of the language!
Last, but not least: travel!
Expose yourself to situations when you cannot fall back onto the use of your mother tongue! Once you make friends with locals, you will feel more comfortable using the language and realise that all that struggle with rote learning will eventually be rewarded when you manage to make yourself understood abroad for the first time!