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Should I prepare before going on a course?

Absolutely. The more you know the better. In reality both CESA and the colleges are well aware the best of intentions somehow get de-railed in reality.  However, no one expects you to work in-depth before you arrive. Obviously if you can manage something before departure, you will be the one who benefits.

Here are some ideas on where to begin

Beginner & Elementary level students :

Exercises that improve your vocabulary are well worth the time and effort. Find someone who is a native speaker of the language you wish to learn. Ask this person to make a tape-recording of a chosen text and listen to it over and over until you know it well enough to recite it along with the speaker. This will help you become accustomed to recognising certain words that you already recognise when written down.

Read your text and/or listen to your tape just before you go to sleep. This allows you to subconsciously work on the new material while you are sleeping. If you are an absolute beginner, we suggest you buy a small phrase book, preferably one with a tape to accompany it, and set about learning 20 or 30 useful phrases you will need all the time. Most phrase books contain an introductory section where you can find those little phrases and expressions that make communication easier : ” please, thank you, excuse me, I’m sorry, can you help? I’d like some…, have you got a … ? how much is …? yes, no ” and so on. Master a short list of phrases like this, and you will be surprised how many simple situations you can deal with. Basic expressions of this sort will not solve all your communication problems, but they will make it easier for people to deal with you, and that’s worth a lot.

Low to Intermediate level students :

If you are not learning a language from scratch – but rather building on foundations, weak or otherwise that you have attained from school, or possibly from a tutor try to learn as many common words as you can before you leave for your language course abroad. When you learn a foreign language in your own country you do not learn much vocabulary. This can cause problems when you go abroad and attempt to talk to native speakers. You can’t really be functional in a foreign language unless you know 2,000 – 3,000 words really well. That’s about the same number of words as a four or five-year old child knows – enough to cope with most everyday situations.

Most good book stores stock children’s picture books with basic vocabularies in the major European languages. If you already have a rough idea of the grammar of the language you are learning, then another good idea is to buy a newspaper in the language you are planning to learn and work through the headlines, using a dictionary. This will give you a basic vocabulary referring to things that are currently in the news – just the sort of things that people are likely to want to talk to you about.

You can make some of this vocabulary active if you systematically practice productive tasks using the words you’ve just learned. Buy a small pack of picture postcards and each day spend a few minutes with each card identifying the things you can see. At first, you might find that you can only list a few objects, but with practice, you will be able to string together a couple of phrases or sentences.

Advanced level students :

If it’s a question of brushing up on a language you once knew quite well, but have since forgotten or wish to refine, we suggest you read, watch foreign language TV or listen to the radio.  When you stop using a language, the words you have learned don’t disappear from your mind, they just seep into your subconscious. Reading, watching and listening will reactivate many of the things you once knew. So, a few hours of concentrated effort will allow you to remember words that you thought were forgotten. It helps even more if you have a book that you know fairly well. Cartoon strips, or children’s books seem to be particularly useful for this, as they usually have good illustrations and simple story lines. Cartoon strips in particular are written in dialogue that you can cannibalise and use in a variety of situations. Alternatively read your favourite International author, in the target language, knowing the plot and characters beforehand means you can concentrate on building your vocabulary, rather than the outcome of the story!

Once you have a good basic vocabulary, most of the things that happen in language classes are fairly easy: i.e. grammar exercises become a question of slotting the words you know in, in an effective way.