Things Your Language Teacher Forgot To Tell You
1. Learning the alphabet in your language of choice is really, really important.
My teachers either chose to skip over this section entirely or would just go over it briefly. "Ah, you can pick that up later."
However, when I first arrived in France, the fact that I could carry on small conversations about global warming, people's physical appearances, and ask for directions was practically useless. But I sure got "How do you spell that?" at least four times a day during my first few months while filling out paperwork.
2. It's virtually impossible to become bilingual in a classroom.
The exception to this is if you are doing an intense immersion program, but even then the chances are slim. In general, children under the age of 5 need to be exposed to a language for at least 30 hours a week to become bilingual (1/3 of their time awake). They're little sponges, who are at their language learning prime. Imagine how much time an adult would need. Six hours a week probably isn't going to cut it.
3. When traveling, no matter how much you studied beforehand, you'll wish you had studied more.
I was in love with the French language and one of the best in my class. I studied for hours every week to ensure that I got an "A", and felt pretty confident in my abilities. But that pretty little A meant diddly squat when I tried to tell the poor fella next door that I'd hurt my fingers, and instead told him that I got hurt while fingering myself. One of my finer moments...
Note to French learners: Never, ever pronounce the "t" at the end of doigt. It really messes things up.
4. Singing in your target language is great for phonetics.
Listening is great. It's just much, much less effective than actually singing and trying to force yourself to articulate those funny sounding new words.
Your shower might be a good place to start if you're the timid type, and I recommend singing songs that were intended for adults. Frère Jacques is cute, but you'll progress much more quickly if you really challenge yourself.
If you interested in more tips like this, I also wrote a post about how you can really learn a foreign language.
5. You're going to need to know the slang.
Even if you don't even use the slang, it's important to realize that it's there and how it functions. Just because your teacher never taught you the foreign word for boobs, doesn't mean it won't come up in conversation.
Knowing slang also prevents you from misunderstanding/misusing it later while you're in the parrot stage of language learning. Your university friends might find those little slip-ups funny, but that old lady at church won't when you accidentally swear at her.