8 ways to improve in modern languages

Are you studying English, Spanish, German, Russian, Arabic, Italian, Chinese, or another language? Are you starting a foreign language?

Be sure to read our article, which briefly outlines the benefits of improving your language skills – by the way, if you are here, you already have an idea of how it can benefit you! Then we will give you 8 ways to improve your foreign language skills, whatever they may be.

Why study modern languages for Sciences Po?

It is a good thing, practicing a modern language is a huge asset in our globalized world. Companies are attracted to candidates who master at least one foreign language – almost always English – and increasingly a second foreign language, which also strongly personalizes your CV and allows you to stand out.

But professional opportunities are only one of the qualities to learn a foreign language. We must add, in a non-exhaustive way: open-mindedness, possibility to travel, possibility to multiply research (books and websites in foreign languages), benefits for the brain, understanding one’s own language by reflecting on the language of others, ability to better handle concepts, development of abstraction capacities … etc.!

It is therefore very natural that all schools, universities and training courses have taken up this issue: mastery of foreign languages has become an essential admission criterion, and more and more often not mastering a language is eliminator. For example, Sciences Po used to require a minimum score in English for admission (below 7 in English, the doors of Sciences Po were definitely closed to you), and many schools now make graduation conditional on a good score in TOEFL, TOEIC, or IELTS, official standardized tests of English on a worldwide scale.

Here, we will provide advice on how to get into Sciences Po, which is the purpose of this site. Nevertheless, this roadmap to success in mastering a modern language is valid for all schools, all courses, all diplomas – and, of course, also if you just enjoy learning any modern language on your own and spontaneously!

So remember, you started a language with a specific goal in mind (getting good grades in school, getting a job abroad, watching Netflix movies in the original language, etc.), but the wonderful thing to keep in mind is that the benefits will spread to all areas: travel, culture, discovery, understanding, finding a job, opening up to the world, intellectual stimulation, opportunities, and of course: fun!

How to study Foreign Languages?

This ease with foreign languages is cultivated. It is enriched by contact with these languages.

1. Focus on one language

Choose the language on which you want to improve. If it is for the Sciences Po exam, find out which language you will take the test in. Once you have made your choice, stick with it.

You will concentrate all your efforts in this specialty, and thus become unbeatable in your field.

A rare foreign language allows you to stand out from the rest. A widespread language allows you to reach more speakers.

If you spread your efforts too thinly, then you will not see yourself progress. Worse, learning several languages at the same time very often causes confusion – many of you will recognize yourself in that experience of looking up the German/Spanish equivalent of a word, and only having English words come to mind.

So ideally, focus on one language.

Once you get really good at that new language, you can start a new one.

2. Set your goals preparing effectively

Check your goal: if it is to travel, then you will rarely have the opportunity to write for directions. If it is to take English tests like TOEFL, TOEIC, or IELTS, then I am sorry to disappoint you, but digital technology has made it possible to automate oral tests too. Your practice should therefore be very complete: reading, listening, writing, speaking.

Let us take another example, the case of the foreign language test at Réseau Sciences Po, which is only written. There are always at least two parts: understanding foreign literature, and writing in the foreign language. Focusing on your literary skills therefore seems more strategic than improving your oral skills.

The best way to improve your writing skills is to assimilate the foreign writing style. Your mind will be impregnated with the way they write, the way they turn sentences, the vocabulary they use.

Therefore read to write better.

3. Your sources for reading Foreign Literature

The more fun you have, the easier it is to learn.

So you can read

—song lyrics in a foreign language

Advantages: remembering the lyrics will be pleasant thanks to the music and easy thanks to the rhymes.

Example: Adele (album 21) for English is an excellent choice

—your favorite foreign language novels:

Advantages: you already know the story, so reading will be easy and learning considerably effective.

Example: Harry Potter for all languages

—the newspaper:

Advantages: the most adapted to Sciences Po, the test is almost always on a newspaper article of the year. In addition, you kill two birds with one stone by also studying for the General Knowledge.

Example: The Economist, El Mundo, Die Zeit

4. Set a rhythm

Setting a pace increases your motivation:

—you can see your progress

—ensure that you are improving every day

—you keep a healthy consistency

Establish the following:

—how often you will read – example: every day

—for how long you will read – example: all year

-at what time you will read – example: before going to sleep

—how much you will read – example: one article

5. Reading a foreign language effectively

Just skip the parts you do not understand on the first try.

You will understand them with context, or not, it does not matter.

Looking up the meaning of every word and phrase in a dictionary will only make your reading slow and laborious.

If a word comes up often and you have not guessed its meaning, then it is a good idea to write it down.

You will then look for its translation at the end of your reading.

A triple advantage of noting only frequently occurring words:

—they will be easily anchored in your memory

—you will be more likely to come across them in a text comprehension

—they are typical of the foreign language studied, so you will show your familiarity with the language

You will be able to build up a repertoire of useful words, why not classified by type: noun, prepositions, adjectives, etc.

A particularly effective method is to set a number of words to write down each day: 10 words each day, for example.

Take care to reread the previous day’s words before reading them today

6. Bonuses: enjoy the TV

Do you watch a TV series or like a show? Watch them in the original language.

Although they are not specifically about foreign literature, they are always a plus in the learning of a language.

Every program on TV has its foreign equivalent, from the most useless to the most intellectual:

bBC news – TF1’s 8 o’clock news,

Who wants to be a billionaire – Who wants to make millions

And all your series: CSI, Desperate Housewives, etc. are broadcast on all TVs in the world in all foreign languages.

The advantages: almost all shows are of better quality abroad.

Compare the ratings of American Idol and American Idol to get an idea.

7. Living in a foreign language environment

The more you live in contact with a foreign language, the better you get at it.

You read a lot of information in your own language every day, especially in the technological field.

Today’s technologies have the advantage of being global.

So change the language of your cell phone, your game console, your computer, facebook or twitter.

This way, you will always be in touch with your foreign language while surfing your favorite websites with pleasure.

8. Go on a trip

The best way to apply the previous point: simply go abroad!

You have understood that the more frequent the contact, the better you learn so ideally go alone, to a large family abroad, without listening to any French, and the progress will, of course, be spectacular, in proportion to the time spent.

This last point is, of course, an ideal, differently accessible to all, some tricks allow, however, to overcome some barriers:

  • money: go in exchange for a service, such as taking care of children
  • finding a contact: ask friends and family, who will have friends or family abroad, and so on
  • Time: vacations are the best time, especially in summer. Going away as part of your studies, whether in high school or university, is also a good solution.

You now have all the keys to mastering a foreign language and getting the best grade in the Sciences Po exams!