Many of us attempt to learn a new language at one point in our lives. Though it’s not for everyone, I’m sure I’m not the only one who has dreamt of being able to speak effortlessly in another language. And, what better time to learn or improve on a language skill than with the approach of a new year?
There’s nothing like the motivation that comes with a new year to achieve a goal, but if your goal is to learn a new language, seeing piles of grammar and vocabulary books can quickly make your goal turn into an “I’ll get to it one day” dream.
As someone who has been in that exact position, I understand how daunting it can be to learn a new language completely or to improve upon your skills. But, as someone who speaks a few languages moderately well, I want to tell you that it’s possible, and you need not rely solely on textbooks to learn languages! I’ve compiled a few tips in this article to give you ideas for unconventional ways to learn your target language.
I should start with the disclaimer that most of these tips apply to those who have a foundation in the language. If you’re learning your first few words in your target language, these tips may not work as well for you. But, since you’re very motivated (right?), these tips will become relevant to you soon in your journey.
Never underestimate the power of learning a language through music! Not only is music a great way to get to know the culture(s) associated with that language, but it’s also a great way to get to know some of the most common words used by native speakers.
You will have an example of how to use the word you just learned, and you’ll be able to practice using the word every time you sing along to the song in the shower!
As you listen to more songs, you’ll notice that a lot of words are repeated, and you’ll recognise more each time. Plus, think about how cool your Spotify Wrapped will look! Speaking of Spotify, a great way to find songs in your target language is to look up the classics. For example, looking up “Swahili Love Songs” will provide you with plenty of playlists to get started with. From there, you can find even more songs through curated radios.
So, get your records on, and play your favourite song!
If you’re among the people who struggle with listening comprehension, podcasts are a great way to practice while having fun! Depending on your level, not all podcasts may be understandable enough to be entertaining, so it’s essential to pick one that suits your current level. If you’re already fluent, podcasts from individual content creators or news stations can be great. In my experience, podcasts created by news companies tend to speak clearer, but if you’re not interested in the topics they offer, certainly don’t hold yourself back!
If you can hold a basic conversation and are learning lots of new words already, Duolingo offers bilingual podcasts for French and Spanish. These kinds of podcasts can be a fun way to hear interesting stories worldwide and learn vocabulary. The hosts provide context throughout the podcast, while the guests tell their stories in their native language.
There’s no doubt that there are more than enough podcasts out there, so make your commute just a little bit more fun and start improving your reading comprehension!
- Watch Your Favourite Show!
There are different levels with this tip. If you’re in the beginner stages, I recommend starting with your favourite childhood shows. If you also spent your childhood constantly watching Phineas and Ferb, The Powerpuff Girls, or Ben 10, then you’re probably familiar with the plot. And, if you’re lucky enough to have a dub of the show in the language you’re learning, take advantage of it and rewatch it in your target language! Children’s plays, especially those aimed at toddlers, can seem too simple initially, but they’re a great way to learn the basics. After all, when learning your native language, you didn’t start with Law and Order either (hopefully).
If you’re more advanced, try watching the dubbed version of your favourite show without English subtitles. You can still add subtitles in your target language, but by rewatching your favourite episodes, you’ll have your memory to fall back on if you don’t understand a line.
So, if you’re also an iPad kid, get your favourite show on while eating dinner, and have fun learning!
- Pen Pals
You may learn a lot of new words using these tips, but how can you know if you can use them without practising? There are plenty of ways to do so if you already have friends you can practise your target language with, but if you’re learning a language with fewer speakers, that may be harder. So, why not reach out to people online? Slowly is a great app to practice writing in your target language to people all over the world, and it gives you the experience of having a pen pal by adjusting the response time depending on the distance between you and your pal, just like snail mail! You can specify the level at which you speak your language on your profile, too, so your pen pal will know what to expect from you. There are many other language-exchange apps online too, but make sure to stay safe by not giving out personal information and generally being careful with the type of people you engage with.
- Adding Languages to Your Social Media Feeds
An adjustable feature on most social media apps are the languages on your feed. If you add your target language in this setting (and engage with these posts to alert your algorithm), then you’ll have a fun way to keep up with the news around the world AND learn the slang of your target language.
As you engage more and more with the content, you may even start to get memes in the language you’re learning. What better way to connect with people than through memes?
Whether it’s reading the news or talking to a friend about a funny thing that happened, you'll be less likely to burn out by integrating your language into your daily life. Who knows, maybe by this time next year, you’ll be able to quote memes from your target language; how cool would that be?