Studying a language (at any level) is something that requires a fair bit of skill, and not to mention a whole heap of dedication. If you are contemplating continuing your language learning at university level, you are bound to have a few questions. Read below for a few tips from an English Literature and German graduate on how to make the most of your language skills at degree level.
Before starting my joint-honors degree, I wondered how big the “jump” would be between my A Levels and 1st year. Every open day, I would quiz fellow students about everything to do with their language degree. How was their year abroad? What did they struggle with most? How intense are the language classes? How confident were they in their language fluency?
Of course, learning a language is very subjective. You may be great at discussing political unrest in your second language, but you might struggle with reading a classic cookie recipe! This is something that is super important to bear in mind before your first language seminar. It can be intimidating to resume speaking a language that you (probably) haven’t been rigorously practicing over summer - particularly when you have to start speaking in front of a whole new class of people. Some people in your classes may be better than you, and some may struggle more than you. But as any good language learner knows - the most important aspect when speaking a language is confidence. You may not have the widest vocabulary or the best grasp of complex grammatical structures, but if you sound confident when speaking what you do know, your speaking skills will soon become your biggest asset.
Now maybe you too share the concern over how big the “jump” is between A-Levels and your first year?
From my perspective, this jump is far more manageable than the jump between GCSE and A-Level. This is not to say it is easy, but rather it is more manageable. The main focus in first year is usually to get a better understanding of the culture, and ensure everyone is on the same base level. This means you will likely have a lot of grammar to go over, and there will be a lot of reading to make your way through.
One nice difference is the ability to choose your own modules aside from the core language content. Everyone will have compulsory language modules, to ensure your speaking, grammar, reading and writing are improving. Aside from these though, you will be able to select other language based modules, which are usually culture based. This could be anything from studying the works of Kafka to exploring the turning points in German history. It is worth exploring the optional modules at all of the universities you are considering, as some will have more variety than others.
The main difference between A Level and university is that you are expected to do a lot of the learning on your own. The workload is large, and you will only have around 4 contact hours per week for the core language side of things. You will need to dedicate a large chunk of your time to revising and constantly being involved with your language. Think of it as a baby always crying out for attention. Try to incorporate it into all aspects of your life. Listening to a podcast, watching a film, writing your shopping list - all of these simple everyday activities can be turned into language learning opportunities by simply switching the language. Instead of watching 2 hours of Netflix in English, why not watch the first half in your second language? Try writing a few lines in your journal in your second language before switching back into English. There are lots of small ways to keep the work up outside of class, and it will go a long way in helping to improve your language skills.
Finally, think about why you want to study a language. For me, the idea of making it to A Level and not being 100% fluent in the language I had dedicated so many years to didn’t sit well with me. Perhaps you want to travel around South America and would love to feel confident in your Spanish skills. Or maybe you have a particular career in mind that involves languages.
Whatever your reasons may be, learning a language will never be something you regret.