How to not “forget” English in times of social distancing

Even though we are immersed in English through (social) media, it is easy to “forget” it when we are not communicating in it. After some time of not using English, we find ourselves looking more often for words at the back of our head, having the need to “prepare” our sentence before we say it, directly translating expressions from our native language, and becoming more aware that we are reading or listening to a foreign language.

At TU Chemnitz, there are many opportunities to speak in English – in addition to taking classes in English or free courses by the Foreign Language Centre, students can meet English-speaking colleagues in the cafeteria and prepare assignments with them, or attend events at the Club of Cultures and talk to internationals. With social distancing, many of these activities have been hindered and it has become easier to stop actively using English. Here are a few tips on how to brush up your English in the next semi-online semester:

  • Language tandem apps – they connect you to speakers of English (and other languages you may want to learn) that are also interested in learning your language. In addition to chats and calls, most of them have a cool correcting function which allows you and your tandem partner to correct and explain each other’s mistakes. There are also a lot of Discord servers for language tandems.
  • Call your international colleagues – calls or Big Blue Button work sessions appear at first more threatening than just chatting in your WhatsApp group, but they will help you clear out misunderstandings and will give you a chance to speak in English again. Hearing or seeing your colleagues can also give you the feeling that you are studying together again.

Online conferences and workshops are a great way to practice English and gain new insights (Photo: Marina Ivanova)

  • Newsletters – you can subscribe for “word of the day” emails from dictionaries like Oxford and Merriam-Webster which will send you (mostly) new vocabulary every day. If you want to focus on academic language and stay up to date with your field, most journals have newsletters announcing their latest contributions.
  • Useful workshops in English by TU4U on exam preparation and dealing with procrastination, or the Centre for Young Scientists on topics such as finding a job in Germany, grant writing and project management for science. Many academic conferences are also taking place online and publishing their recordings afterwards, like the workshop From Uncertainty to Confidence and Trust (in the picture) in which I participated.
  • More helpful study tips, interesting interviews and exciting movie, podcast and book recommendations on the Instagram and Facebook channels of the English Department.

It can be discouraging to find yourself experiencing a foreign language block. But once you actively challenge yourself to start communicating in English again and try to abstract yourself from your mistakes and challenges, you will regain your previous confidence in no time.

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