I was recently asked how my Russian had improved since living in Russia. Although a few answers were obvious off the top of my head, I was able to come up with a few more.
1) Pronunciation. This is based on the fact that a lot of native speakers have told me I don’t have an accent when I speak Russian. I’ve also noticed that pronunciation of words, even new ones, comes easier without even knowing where the stress is. I now seem to just know how to pronounce a word.
A) Words I’d studied before but never had to use before have become ingrained in me due to necessary, every day use. E.g. foods and numbers.
B) I’ve also learned a lot of new words that are used every day in conversation that never came up in a textbook.
3) Slang. This includes more natural pronunciation of words as well as expletives and fillers.
4) Fluidity. I can now speak without interruptions or gaps and can easily communicate what I want to say, even if I make mistakes. The awkward starting and stopping while pausing to think of words is gone because I also understand the use of fillers (see #4).
5) Overall understanding. As a student I often had to listen very carefully whe native speakers spoke, even if they were speaking extra slowly. I think exposure to the language on a constant basis has made it easier to understand the language when spoken by native speakers at fast, natural pace. Now I seem to absorb the language almost automatically instead of making an effort to understand.
What other ways have your own language skills improved as a result of living abroad versus studying in a classroom? How can living in a target country affect your language in ways that simply studying cannot?