Speaking outside the classroom

Get out and about in your university town

If you are going to make the most of having the opportunity of speaking your target language in a target language location, why not get out of the university environment some of the time, encounter the local accent and put yourself in situations where you will have to speak the native language. Our key suggestion is that you create your own phrasebook with words and phrases that you discover you need to know. Have a look on the web; there are plenty of websites suggesting how you might do this.

So step 1: finding out what I do not know how to say. How? The ‘communicative’ tasks below are things that you would probably like to do – even if we had not set them out in black and white here. In this sense, they are authentic learning opportunities. Immediately after each encounter write down what you did not know how to say or what you would have liked to have said better. Why do you think that you did not communicate as well as you would have liked? Ask a native speaker friend what they would have said.

And the sooner you do these things, the sooner you will be able to makes plans in your new country too: to go swimming, to go on a day trip, to travel by bus, to go to the cinema…

Tasks to help you discover what you do not know how to say:

You have not just come to study at a different university; you are now living in a new place. Why not get to know it well? You might have guests coming to stay, and it would be good to know where to take them too.

Tourist information

Ask for a map of the town and transport maps too (buses, trams, metros). If they do not have transport maps, ask where you go for these (and go and get them). Pick up lots of leaflets about places of historical interest, any upcoming events and organised tours (for example, guided walks around town). Ask where you can easily get to that would be a good day trip destination (ask if they have maps / leaflets on these). Think about practical things you would like to know too. For example, where is the:

  • local sports centre with swimming pool / gym / exercise classes? o cinema, and is there an arts cinema?
  • art gallery?
  • theatre?
  • public library?
  • health food shop?
  • venue for live music? o local market?
  • arts centre?

Staying healthy

Health food shop: how about visiting your local health food shop and asking if they have any free recipe cards for you to pick up or on their website. Ask them which multi-vitamin they would recommend and why. Find out if they sell “free-from” foods (for example, gluten, lactose, sugar free) – you might well find that one of your friends has dietary requirements.

Pharmacy: drop into the chemist shop nearest to where you live. Explain that you have just moved to the area. Ask them their opening times and what you do if you need to find a pharmacy open late at night or on a Sunday. Ask them where the nearest doctors’ and dentists’ surgeries are.

Doctors’ and dentists’ surgeries: call in and explain to the receptionist that you have just moved to the area for a few months. Ask what you would need to do / bring with you if you need to see a doctor / dentist during that time. (Check too whether there are university surgeries that are available for you to use.)

Plan an overnight trip for you and a friend

Yes of course it is okay to look on the internet for information (and it might be cheaper when it comes to booking the trip), but how about starting the old-fashioned way, by asking in the relevant places in your town. That way, not only will you get to meet some locals, but also your internet searches will be a lot more informed.

Tourist information:
ask for ideas of places of interest within the region which you could visit on public transport. Ask if they have leaflets for these, including a map of the destination place.

Travel agency: ask if they organise hostel / bed & breakfast rooms and, if not, which websites they suggest you could try.

Bus or train station:
ask them for timetables and prices, and ask if they could print a copy for you of your intended journey times. Ask them about their website and if you can buy tickets online.

Other challenges

How about setting yourself some of the following challenges each week? If you choose smaller shops to buy things in, you will have to ask questions. Going to the supermarket all the time, you will miss these opportunities…

Go and try clothes on in a boutique clothes shop: ask where the changing room is / for a different size / whether there is a loyalty card / discount for students.

Go to the local market each week and buy something: fruit and vegetables, meat, fish – it is more challenging than pulling things off a supermarket shelf. Or find the local fruit and veg shop, the butchers, the fishmongers and the bakers.

Plan a tour of your town for a fellow university friend: find a native speaker who is not from the region. Point out things that they might have walked past every day and missed. Throw in some dates of buildings and other historical context.

At the supermarket: look at the food labels before throwing items into your trolley. What do they tell you about calorific content, whether the item contains common allergens, whether there are additives and preservatives in the food?

Find the local off-licence: explain that you are planning a simple dinner party for a few students. Explain that you have a tight budget but ask what they would recommend. Mention where you are from and the wines that you like from your region. Ask them if they have wine-tasting events from time to time.

Find your local newsagents: start taking a look at the headlines in the newspapers. Are you following the national and international news?

Find a café / tearoom (ideally not a chain): go in and ask about their menu. Say that you have a friend you want to bring for something to eat and they have special dietary requirements. Ask them what they have on the menu that is gluten free. Book a table if you fancy going back for real!

Find a hobbies shop: ask for a needle and thread for when a button comes off your favourite shirt…