Group classes or dedicated independent study are great starting points for learning a foreign language, but exposure to your new language cannot be limited to classroom time if you want to attain true fluency.
One of the most effective ways to enhance the speed and quality of your language learning is to incorporate the target language into your daily routine. Here are inventive ways to rethink three of the most traditional foreign language learning strategies and engage with a new language each day:
Take a break from the textbooks and grammar guides and read something relevant to your personal interests… in your target language. Be it newspapers, fashion magazines or social commentary, seek out an online publication that meets your tastes and dive into the content. Articles may be a smoother starting point than novels, but don’t let that stop you from looking into books at your reading level — just keep in mind that there’s no shame in using books written for children as a starting point.
Disclaimer: You won’t understand everything you read. That’s okay, and is to be expected! Use your dictionary and context clues to muddle through and your reading abilities in the target language will develop at a faster pace from your efforts.
Tip: Readlang is an extension for Google Chrome that lets you read websites in the language you’re learning. The application lets you directly translate content from online foreign language sources into your native tongue by clicking on words, or make flashcards for phrases you want to review later. It’s a unique way to incorporate your language learning into your daily web surfing, and the extension offers a basic plan with limited features free of charge or a more robust version for a monthly fee.
Radio shows, podcasts, music, audio books, television, movies… the options for auditory language learning are expansive, and the great thing about learning by listening is that you can do it while doing any other daily tasks. Listen to a podcast or a radio station in your target language during your commute, turn on the TV to a foreign language channel while washing the dishes, or unwind with an audio book before you go to sleep at night.
Disclaimer: You also won’t understand everything you hear. That’s also okay, and is also very much to be expected. The value in listening to content in a foreign language comes in large part from accustoming yourself to the sounds of that language. Though you may not understand each and every word you hear, your brain learns to recognize accents, intonations, and proper grammatical constructs by listening, even if it’s just background sound while you multitask.
Tip: A great starter podcast to subscribe to is the CoffeeBreak series, which offers basic audio content and grammar and vocabulary lessons in several popular foreign languages. Each lesson or clip is short and sweet, and you can download most for free on iTunes.
Do you write out daily reminder notes or weekly shopping lists? Try writing them in your new foreign language instead. It’ll be a challenge, and it may slow down your process a bit, but writing out basic tasks will help you commit to memory some of the phrases most relevant to your daily routine. Incorporating those words into your grocery shopping and office to-dos will also help you think in a foreign language: the action of picking up an apple at the store and thinking “menzana” or “pomme,” or taking out the garbage and thinking “basura” or “déchets,” will solidify your mental association between words in your mother tongue and in the foreign language you are learning.
Tip: Start out with side-by-side bilingual lists, and then move on to exclusively using the target language when you feel ready. Hold on to your lists even once you’ve completed all the items so you can refer back to them to keep tabs on your progress! And once you’ve mastered words, challenge yourself — break out the thesaurus and swap in synonyms and related phrases to ramp up your learning process.