5 tips for learning a new language at home –
from language professionals
Now is the time, you say to yourself as you book that holiday for next summer or as you work on sprucing up your CV. Now is the time for me to finally learn *insert language here*. Whether you want to learn Italian for your next holiday or you are looking to add French to your résumé to open up new career opportunities, it is never too late to learn a new language or dust off the language skills you have let slip since school. But where should you start? How can you make sure the time and effort you are investing will pay off? And most importantly, is it possible to take at least the first few steps towards a multilingual future by yourself?
It absolutely is possible. And we agree, now is a great time for you to start on your language journey. We spoke to some language experts and collected some insider tips on how they worked on and improved their own language skills at home. Here are our top five to give you the kick-start you’ve been looking for.
1. App-ly yourself
One of the easiest ways to promote your own language learning is to download one of the many language apps available on your phone, such as Mondly or Duolingo, for example. Most people have their phones with them for a large part of the day and use this for many and various purposes, so why not add language learning to this list? Many of the apps offer free versions to get you started, and you can always upgrade if you find you get to a stage where you need more of a challenge. The benefit of having this on hand is that you can capitalise on your free time during the day. You can use the app on your commute, during a tea break or even as a mental palette cleanser after finishing work and before you switch on the TV. You can practice your language anytime, anywhere – and without having to cart around any books! This also gives you some tips with pronunciation as there are often some audio features. Admittedly, these apps may be a little too basic if you are already quite advanced, but they are a great way to start and to develop consistency with your language learning habits. See how long a streak you can get without missing a day!
2. Sit down, switch on
You’ve finished work and all you want to do is sit down and kick back with your favourite TV show. Go for it! But why not kill two birds with one stone and learn while you relax? Many streaming services have multiple language options for both subtitles and dubbing. Watching a TV show or a film that you are familiar with but dubbed in the language you are learning is an excellent way to make sure you are engaged with what is going on and won’t miss anything while also allowing you to compare what you are hearing to what you know is said there. If you’re feeling extra studious, you can also turn on the subtitles so you can familiarise yourself with the words and spellings or even just use them to anchor the speech – after all, the audio may be hard to follow at first. You can then graduate to watching TV shows and films that were originally filmed in the target language. This will increase the authenticity of the speech and also give you more of a flavour of the culture it is set in. Subtitles can be really helpful here too, and you can eventually turn them off to see how much you can follow without them!
3. That’s news to me!
Big news headlines are international, meaning you can get your daily news fix while also practising your target language. You likely already know the broad strokes of what is being discussed, so you can follow what is being said without having to look everything up or guessing too much. If you are unsure, you can always check what you have understood by turning to news in your native language. There are also many different ways of accessing this information (many of which are free!), so you can pick whichever one suits your learning style. If you are watching on TV, you can focus on pronunciation and make use of the subtitles if you need to, and if you are reading the newspaper, you can make a list of vocabulary you would like to look up later or see if you can pick up some new phrases or idioms. Insider tip: don’t forget about news programmes on the radio! This is an ideal way to make the most of your time commuting or running errands. Just pop your earphones in and away you go! Playing the radio in the background is also a great way of tuning into your target language before you sit down to do some studying.
4. Word association
We’ve all been there: you’re in mid flow and a very simple word eludes you, leaving you scrambling to find a way to describe what you mean without using the word you need, or even resorting to hand gestures. As a beginner, it is good to build up your vocabulary whenever possible and as a more advanced learner, everyday words can easily be overlooked in favour of more complicated terms. A simple but effective way of improving your vocabulary is to use labels and sticky notes. Label the furniture in your house, label the contents of your fridge, even label the items in your office! Regularly seeing the word with the object it refers to will help you to learn new vocabulary and associate this word with the item. Another benefit of using labels is that you can learn a lot very easily, as this vocabulary will be being reinforced every time you are in the room without you having to make a conscious effort to sit and learn it. And it should come back to you when you need to recall it, too! Pro tip: why stop at labelling objects with their respective translations? Once you are ready, try adding other associated words too. For example, you could put a note on the front door with the translation for door, keys, umbrella, shoes, handbag, phone, coat, to go, to walk, to run, to drive, etc.
5. Get social
A new way of improving your language skills is right at your fingertips: social media! Social media offers a relaxed and fun way of learning new vocabulary, grammar points and phrases – and it doesn’t feel like you’re studying! There are lots of language teachers taking to social media to share their knowledge and skills, so you are bound to find someone offering the language you want to learn. Through pictures, quizzes and videos, you can learn about a wide variety of topics and even find out how to pronounce new words like a native. They are free to follow, and the best part is that there is no limit on how many teachers you can follow. This means you can familiarise yourself with different accents and dialects as well as increasing the number of topics you can cover. Plus, some teachers also offer courses, so once you have found a teacher with a style that suits you, you have the option to take your learning even further.
Try these tips out for yourself and see which ones work best for you! Do you have a great tip you would like to share? Let us know!