Learning a foreign language by immersion is by far the easiest, fastest, bestest way. However, as much as I wish I could hop on a plane tomorrow and spend a year in Italy studying la lingua bella, that just isn’t going to happen. Here are some tips I’ve come up with for bringing a foreign language into your daily life and learning it by immersion without even leaving your house.
1. Change your settings
The first thing to do is to change your language settings to your target language on your phone and computer. If you want a walkthrough tutorial, check out this article.
Now you’ll be exposed to little bits of your target language every time you turn on one of your devices. I find it particularly helpful to have my iPhone set to Italian, because not only are the basic preferences, notifications, and time and date in Italian, but all apps that are optimized for Italian are automatically translated as well.
BONUS POINTS: people don’t steal my phone or hack it anymore because they get bewildered when they see words they can’t understand.
2. Turn up the beat
A bi-lingual friend of mine once told me that the best way to learn a language is through music. For some reason, our brains are wired to remember music much easier than anything else (testified by the fact that I’ve had “the song that never ends” stuck in my head all morning, despite not having watched Sherry Lewis’s Lamb Chop for almost a decade.)
Anyhow, you can use music’s special super power for language learning. I have created a playlist of my favorite Italian songs that I listen to on my walk to work. Sometimes when I don’t have the willpower to slug through my daily Italian grammar lesson, I choose a favorite pop song and work on translating it into my own words. Or I try to memorize the words in Italian so that I can sing away in the shower later on. Either way, I’m getting exposed to the flow of the language and falling deeper in love with the beauty of it.
3. Watch some T.V.
I’ve been looking up Italian cooking shows and Italian news radio on the internet since the very beginning stages of my Italian journey. Even if you don’t understand a word of vocabulary, just exposing yourself to the accent and rhythm of the language is beneficial.
If you get frustrated by not understanding, try watching a movie in your foreign language with English subtitles. But try to rely on the subtitles as sparingly as possible.
I also like to listen to interviews of my favorite Italian artists on youtube. People tend to talk slower when they are being interviewed, so it is a lot easier to understand… If you can find a celebrity speaking in your target language as their second language, that is the absolute best. They may not have the accent perfectly right, but they will be easier to understand. Plus, it is just plain cool to see your favorites talking in a foreign language. For example, I found interviews of both Colin Firth and Audrey Hepburn speaking in Italian. Who knew? insta respect.
4. Make friends online
There are great online communities that connect people who want to learn languages. The good news is that as a native English speaker, you are a precious commodity. There are TONS of people who want to learn English, so it is super easy to find a language learning partner to chat with online. I’ve used both Livemocha and Busuu successfully.
BONUS TIP: The majority of the people on there are genuine learners seeking language practice. However, there is a fair share of weirdos. Avoid starting chats with men who are NOT native speakers of your target language (yes, they will send requests). It is usually pretty easy to tell people’s intentions from the first few minutes of chatting. Don’t waste your time with flirts.
5. Make it a contest
DuoLingo has free courses in many languages and an easy way to connect to friends. I love being connected to fellow language learning buddies because we keep each other accountable and I even try to outdo their language learning points. I love that DuoLingo uses a point and level based system to make language learning a game. Because let’s be honest, what motivation is there that is stronger than competition?
6. Buy your favorite book
Splurge and buy a beautiful copy of your favorite book translated into your target language. As you read bits and pieces of it, it will be easy to connect the bits of vocabulary you know with what you don’t know, since you are familiar with the plot. It builds confidence.
7. Unleash your inner 5-year-old
If you think about it, a lot of youtube videos, tv shows, and stories for children are designed to help teach them their native tongue. So the language they use is perfect for beginning language learners. Go back and get children’s books and music and videos in your native language. Don’t be shy.
8. Start a journal
I have a special Italian journal. Even if the majority of what I write is translated not in my head, but in google translate, it is a great way to practice writing in Italian.
BONUS POINTS: Nobody can ready your diary… unless they speak the language too. You better still find a good hiding spot.
9. Fall in love with the culture
Learning grammar and vocabulary is a small part of understanding a new language. Language binds people together and communicates a different culture. Don’t just study! Cook food, try new clothing, learn the history. Embrace the culture, not just the language. I have a friend who fell in love with Korea from watching Korean dramas on television. Her love for the people, the history, and the culture pushed her to become fluent in that notoriously difficult language.
10. Talk to yourself
Immersing yourself without leaving your home is as simple as this: don’t limit your language practice to thirty minutes a day, or whatever time you have devoted to studying. Think in your language and talk in your language as much as you can. Learn little phrases that you can say throughout the day. Get in the habit of using what you know as soon as you learn it.
If you are worried that people will think you are crazy, you can think in your language rather than use it out loud. But talking out loud as much as possible is best, since practicing the accent is important. Honestly, people will get used to it. In my house I’ve got sisters learning Spanish, German, and French. Someteimes we have conversations in four languages. Nobody understands each other, but we all get a good laugh.