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Hello everybody,

I'm a conference interpreting student who will start her second year in October. This summer I'll spend six weeks (not much, I know, but better than nothing…) in the country of my third C language in order to attend intensive language courses, from 4pm to 8 pm four days a week. So, beyond the course I'll have lots of free time… and I'm wondering, according to your experience, what's the best way to spend your free time in a country to improve your language skills? What activities would best suit my needs? It sounds indeed a dumb question, I know, but I've made mistakes in the past (going abroad with too a low level and ending up always speaking English with the locals… thus learning very little). I have one friend there and she said she will introduce me to her friends, who mostly don't speak English, so that's a good starting point, but if you have any other suggestions, they're more than welcome!

EDIT: I did not specify I'll go to Helsinki, just in case :)

asked 11 Jul '14, 10:04

Oasisxxx's gravatar image


edited 16 Jul '14, 02:48

Delete's gravatar image

Delete ♦

  • live with Finnish speakers, either in a family or with flatmates (eating meals and hanging out you will clock up useful hours of language exposure & practice)
  • pretend or refuse to speak English (tell anyone who speaks to you in English that you're Armenian or some such)
  • listen to local talk radio, phone-radio throughout the day. (Generally they talking about topical issues, repeatedly over the day, and phone-ins give you a view of the full spectrum of local opinion, including the loonies)
  • engage taxi drivers in conversation (they're a useful finger on the pulse of public opinion, though if Finnish stereotypes are correct they might be less chatty than in say, Rome or London)
  • always watch TV or go to the cinema with Finnish company so you can ask, and/or they can explain the cultural references & jokes etc to you. (Another reason to live with Finns)
  • read school books for 14-16 year olds on subjects like geography, chemistry, physics, stuff you know (more or less) from your own schooling but which you probably don't know in Finnish.
  • read trashy novels, not just the big literature. It's quicker and it'll give you just as much useful vocab

Lastly and separately... think about not attending all those language classes. If you are at interpreting level with Finnish, then it's unlikely that a language class will have much to offer you and if you're sharing it with half a dozen other people then even less so. Do all of the above instead. If you do still need language classes think about staying longer than 6 weeks... like 6 months.

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answered 11 Jul '14, 13:17

Andy's gravatar image


Thank you so much!! :D I'm not yet at interpreting level with Finnish; I can read newspapers and magazines without much difficulty but I need to expand my vocabulary a lot, learn idiomatic expressions and sometimes I still struggle with the spoken language (especially with fast speakers or people who mumble). I'd love to stay 6 months but don't have that much time right now as I want to finish my Master before, so I can at least start working with my two other languages and in the meantime work on my Finnish! Thank you again for your advice and your patience! :D

(11 Jul '14, 15:09) Oasisxxx

My pleasure, and good luck!

(12 Jul '14, 02:48) Andy

Excellent list, Andy. I especially like reading the textbooks and watching films.

What has helped me immensely is: - listening to music by local singers, usually in unplugged version (easier to understand the words, sometimes with texts) and singing along; - watching loads of locally produced talk-show television/local shows that explain how things work/local sitcoms (rather than American produced stuff with subtitles or dubbing); if possible, make sure to watch stand up comedians as well (with help); - carry a notebook around everywhere with you and note EVERYthing down - how they say "don't litter" or "no smoking" may be extrapolated to how they say other things that will come up; how they speak to customers in a store or what they write on notices posted on walls can be compared to how your A-language culture does the same thing, and will give you hints as to how to interpret things.

Good luck!

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answered 12 Jul '14, 16:52

JuliaP's gravatar image



Thank you so much to you too!! Fortunately now I have a very patient friend who can sit down and watch sitcoms with me! :D

(13 Jul '14, 18:19) Oasisxxx

Hi @Oasisxxx,

One thing I'd suggest is doing voluntary translation / interpretation.

Not sure what your other languages are, but chances are that if you introduce yourself to local hospitals, chambers of commerce, police stations, etc., they would love having you "on call" to help with on-demand interpretation. I've worked with a Chinese interpreter living in Australia, and she really improved her skills by doing volunteer interpretation at the local hospitals and police stations. She also had some pretty wild stories by the time she moved back to China!

Hope this helps.

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answered 16 Jul '14, 00:13

MattConger's gravatar image



What would the rationale be for undercutting the market by providing below par services for free? Should one really learn by doing at the expense of the patient or defendant? It probably wouldn't help one's reputation on the market. And no matter how happy you make those who don't have to pay for your services, when life and freedom are at stake, the job should better be done by those who are fully able to do it.

(16 Jul '14, 02:20) Gaspar ♦♦

Translation is definitely a good idea. Volunteer interpreting is a whole different kettle of fish, with ethics issues attached. Maybe that's worth a question in its own right Gaspar! (Should you volunteer interpret? or words to that effect)

(16 Jul '14, 02:51) Andy
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question asked: 11 Jul '14, 10:04

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