October 13, 2016 – Returnee and AFS-USA intern, Maggie V. (pictured below, right) shares her advice…
As all of us AFS returnees know, the first few months after exchange ends can be awesome, but they can also be the most difficult. For me, the initial arrival home after living in Sweden for 10 months was euphoric. I missed my family (and Taco Bell) so much! However, the month that followed was a confusing mix of IKEA binge-shopping, crying over my exchange photos, and complaining about my family being “so American.”
The process of returning home is different for everybody, but it’s important for us to not “box up” our lives abroad, including the new language that we learned (even if it is Swedish). It took me nearly three months after exchange to start actively practicing Swedish back home, but once I started, nothing could hold me back. After all, what good is a language if we end up forgetting it? Here are my tried-and-true tips on keeping your host language sharp at home.
Offer tutoring in your language
No matter what language you learned – whether it was Spanish, Mandarin Chinese, Italian, or Arabic – one great way to keep up with it is to share it. There are always people looking to learn a new language, both casually and formally. Offer to start tutoring at your school or local library. The lessons you give can be individual or group-based, but no matter what way you end up doing it, it is a great way to hone your language skills back home and meet new people interested in different cultures (just like you)!
Find conversation outlets with people who speak fluently
Depending on how widely your host country’s language is spoken, there could be language or cultural centers near you that you could contact. You can also reconnect with your local AFS area team and ask about who else in the area studied in your host country or speaks your host country’s language. (Even if it turns out your area team doesn’t have someone who fluently speaks Russian, it is still great to reconnect with AFS and have a support center back home!) I was lucky enough to have a fellow volunteer in my area team that studied abroad in Sweden, and it’s a great feeling to speak Swedish together.
Take advantage of movies and music
Sometimes you can’t find people to speak one-on-one with, especially if your language is not spoken outside of your host country. If that’s the case, no worries! Language immersion is still within reach. Netflix has great foreign films available in lots of languages, especially if you consider the subtitle possibilities. Spotify, a music app that you can download for free, also has music lists organized by country. It’s a great way to stay updated with the pop culture of your host country and learn new songs in the language. It’s an awesome feeling to sing out loud at home in a language no one else understands.
Visit your phone’s app store
Phone apps can be great language learning tools, and most of them are free. In my experience, the best language learning app is Duolingo. It’s completely free and has 19 languages to learn! There’s an awesome reward system, and there is the option to have daily notifications to remind you to practice!