Become Fluent in a Foreign Language

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October 15th, 2010

The ability to speak a second language is a valued commodity it today's ever-globalizing world. Although speaking English will get U.S. citizens around the globe fairly easily, as most young people in developing countries learn English, knowing how to speak a language other than your own opens your mind to understanding and communicating from a completely different context.

It can be challenging enough to take college courses in a second language, but attaining a fluent command of that language is another thing entirely. If you would like to become fluent in a second language, though, there are some guidelines that will help you reach your goal.

One way to reach fluency is to study your chosen language consistently over the course of your college career, and beyond. Try to take a course at least once a year, but as often as your schedule allows. If you are really serious about learning the language, you may want to consider taking it on as a second major or minor. You can also try to find native speakers, possibly exchange students, who may be interested in a language exchange or just hanging out with you and letting you practice. Either way, practice as much as possible, without too many long breaks in between. This will help you retain what you've learned and more easily pick up new vocabulary and phrases.

What you should ultimately strive for is the ability to read and write in that language. If you can read in a foreign language, it means you can understand it. And, if you can write, it means you can speak. If you feel as though you have command of the grammar rules in your chosen language, take classes geared toward reading and writing. If you are studying Spanish, read novels in Spanish in your spare time. Children's books and movies with subtitles are great ways to learn, as well.

As often as possible, you should also travel to countries with citizens who speak the language you're studying. Even better than travel is study abroad. If you study in a foreign country, you will have the opportunity to actually take courses conducted in the language you are studying and interact daily with native speakers. There is no better way to train your ear to hear the speech intonations of native speakers and teach yourself how to speak without thinking about the language rules.

Once you have studied as consistently as you can and taken every opportunity to improve your abilities, fluency will come with practice. And don't get discouraged. There is no better feeling than having an actual conversation in a second conversation, so, when you're ready, forget the rules and go for it.

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