1. Read more novels and online magazines in French and Italian. So often I feel wretched that I am unable to understand literary texts, then I pick up a short novel like Amélie Nothomb's Stupeur et Tremblements, and quite suddenly, I feel far more relaxed about my language skills. Though a great book, Madame Bovary is hardly likely to in still me with such a sensation. Sure, I still didn't get EVERY word but I got the generally gist of what was going on, and managed to enjoy the book. Magazines which interest you in your native tongue may also prove good options in your target language. There is no point picking up an article in Swahili on the financial situation in Uganda if you wouldn't read it even in English. If you are learning you really need motivating material to make you want to continue reading. I need to follow this through also for Italian, my target books are Gli Indoeuropei e le origine dell'Europa and Alessandro Baricco's Oceano Mare. Watch this space.
2. Improve my listening skills. People keep telling me to listen to the radio. The conservation usually goes somewhat like this:
Me: I don't feel very confident with my listening skills.
Friend (another language learner): You should try listening to the radio.
Me: Do you do that? What do you listen to?
Friend: Umm no but I know it helps.
The problem with this well meant suggestion is that I don't listen to the radio in English. I sometimes find music or radio plays I really enjoy, though I never listen to it live. I do however watch some television programmes, films and the news.
What can I do then? The obvious answer would be to watch French and Italian television and movies, though when at home with my parents, I have no access to fast internet and there is no French or Italian channel. I have a few movies but for some bizarre reason, they only offer English subtitles. I need to buy some other language DVDs from Amazon FR/IT which offer French/Italian subtitles for the hard of hearing. I will continue to listen to my favourite Disney songs translated with lyrics, and find new songs. The next step would be to find Game of Thrones and Doctor who dubbed into French and Italian. That would definitely entice me, and it wouldn't really feel like studying after a few evenings straining to understand what they hell is being said.
3. Stop doing everything in English. If I need to find out a recipe, a review or general information on wikipedia I generally search on google.com, in English. Imagine what I'd learn if I were to type "ricetta cantuccini" the next time that I fancied making biscuits. Not only would they be more cool and authentic, but I would be actively using and developing upon my language skills. Even if you are not where your target language is spoken, you can act as if you were.
4. Grammar! I am not scared of it, I like reading about it, but geez, French inverted hypothetical senses give me a headache! I am not sure why, but when you know you find something difficult you shouldn't just avoid doing it. This semester I will resolve this problem, besides also trying to tackle certain Italian collocations.
5. Talk more. I keep telling myself I never have opportunities to speak. I live with an Italian guy, yet I hardly ever debate or tackle complicated issues in the language. I really should. I should also make more use of Verbling.com and tandem, as speaking with natives is a really good way to become fluent in your target language. If I miss an opportunity, I should discuss things in my head. I.e. Bonjour monde! ça va? Est-ce que tu pense que je devrais sortir ce matin? Ou devrais-je rester au lit pendant tout le matin, je devrais me bouger seulement quand j'ai faim, et puis j'aurai la possibilité de faire des crepes pour le petite-déjeuner! Miam! J'adore des crepes! Even speaking with yourself keeps the language alive.
6. Take extra classes in French. I will not lie to myself, sometimes learning to languages side by side more or less from scratch involves a lot of stress. I feel inferior to the advanced students in my French class, I feel there is an infinitive list of idioms and new vocabulary to learn in both languages. It is not wrong to seek extra help from elsewhere. The French institute is quite far away, but offers reductions for University students, so that may be a worthwhile option.
7. Don't restrict the knowledge input. Studying two languages and linguistics, it is easy to think it impossible to study anything else at the same time. That would be a shame, considering I not only want to learn to play an instrument but also would love to learn Chinese Mandarin and Brazilian Portuguese. I may just buy myself a basic grammar and start learning as a non-academic, non-stressful, and enriching hobby.
Watch this space.