Written by Langston Morrison ’21, College of Letters, Economics, International Relations, and he/him/his
One question I get asked quite frequently is “Langston, how can I learn a language without leaving my house? Do I need to stay in a foreign country to fully get immersed and develop a facility with the language?” I think this question is very interesting as everyone learns differently so going abroad and staying in your target language country(ies) may be the best option for some people. However, not everyone has the opportunity to go because of time, budget constraints, obligations at home, etc. I have written this article for those people. Those persons who want to learn a language but do not know how and /or cannot go abroad.
Know Your Learning Style
I think language learning is all about doing what’s fun and enjoyable. To really effectively learn a language, you need to find something about the language or the culture that you like so that you stay motivated. Similarly, you must know your learning style. Not everyone learns in the same way so not every method will work for everyone. There is no best method to learn languages. There is only the best FOR YOU.
If you do not know your learning style but have found something in the language that you actually find enjoyable, start experimenting with different methods. Learning a new language is not a chore so if you feel that you are forcing yourself to stay with one method, stop! You may have to change strategies. This is critical.
Feeling Stuck? Try a Different Approach
Sometimes I like to give the example of the difference in proficiency levels for languages as organized by the Common European Framework of References for Languages (CEFR). The scale goes from A1 (elementary beginner level) to C2 (highly proficient or native-like). I’d like to examine the jump from B2 to C1. It is huge. This jump, in particular, is much harder than the other proficiency levels. If we use the analogy of a mountain, the higher up the mountain you climb the steeper the slope is. The higher you go up the mountain, the harder it gets to climb. The gap between B2 and C1 is demonstrative of this type of slope. It is difficult. Going from A1 to A2, however, is not as difficult because it is not as big as change and steep of a slope. Because of this change in difficulty, at the level of B2 you may have to shift methods if you do not feel that you are progressing. Try a different approach to get over the hump that has you feeling like you’ve reached a plateau.
Learning a language from the confines of your home is great because a lot of times it is free and right in front of us, but we do not realize it. In the beginning, I wouldn’t spend too much time paying attention to grammar. The grammar and vocabulary will come. What you need is immersion! You should create an immersion-like environment around you. This immersion-like environment looks like listening to songs, watching movies, reading books, changing your electronic devices into your target language, speaking to yourself, and using several important apps to help you along your journey.
Listen to Music
Listening to songs is a very fun way to listen to native speakers sing with native pronunciation in your target language. If you find a song that you really like, make sure that you bookmark it or save it so that you can listen to it later on. On some devices and apps, you may actually be able to put it on repeat.
The more you repeatedly listen to the same song, the easier it will become to absorb the sounds and vocabulary. You may even find yourself singing along. When you reach this point, go look at the lyrics and see how much of the words you actually got correct — the words you sang that actually match what is written in the lyrics. When you read the lyrics, pay attention to the breath and intonation of the singer. Examine how they express their emotions. Do this process for each and every song you learn. I recommend doing this for about 3 months, because at the end of the 3-month period you will have realized that you have created your own curriculum. You have so many vocabulary words for which you can find out their meanings, multiple grammar teaching sessions, and lessons in pronunciation. You will be well on your way to speaking the language.
Use Websites and Apps
LingQ is a website and application (app) that you can download to listen to authentic foreign language content without pay. This app was created by hyperpolyglot Steve Kaufmann as a way to introduce learners to the power of input. For Kaufmann, the best method to learn a language is through listening and reading and his website/app does just that.
The website contains a diverse selection of content to learn new vocabulary and grammar structures in your target language ranging from the elementary level to native speaker content. It is a great resource for learning how to speak, listening to dialogues in different contexts, learning what to say and what not to say, examining how sentences are structured, and accumulating vocabulary. The words you do not know in the dialogue or audio track can be written down and compiled into a system like Quizlet or Anki so that you can refer back to them and go over them later. LingQ is an excellent app for all language levels!
Another app that has been gaining a lot of attention and popularity lately is https://www.joinclubhouse.com/. For those who do not know, Clubhouse is a new type of social network based on voice—where people around the world come together to talk, listen and learn from each other in real-time. It is an excellent app for practicing foreign languages. It is probably the best app and network for learning languages out right now.
If Clubhouse is available in your country and you have the opportunity to download it, I promise you that you will not be sorry. I have the app and I use it primarily to practice my Spanish, French, Mandarin, German, Arabic, and Kiswahili. The people are really enthusiastic and nice about helping you learn; it is a great way to forge connections and build community. Like I mentioned, in my opinion, it is the best app out right now for learning and practicing foreign languages.
Have a Conversation with Yourself
You must incorporate the language into your daily life. If you cannot find people to practice your language(s) with and you cannot download Clubhouse, what you can do is start talking to yourself. Self-talk is not always the most efficient way to learn how to speak, but it forces you to speak. A lot of language learners and language enthusiasts fear speaking and making mistakes, so I think speaking to yourself and producing the sounds of the language for yourself against the pronunciation of a native speaker (which you can most likely find on the internet) is great. Some other advantages of self-talk include:
- realizing words that you do not know but would like to learn (you will most likely look them up when you find out what you don’t know) and;
- figuring out what grammar tenses and structures you still need to work on.
Self-talk is a great way to get a facility with speaking in your target language. In my experience, when I encounter a native speaker I am less likely to be timid or afraid to speak because I’ve been speaking to myself all along almost as if I was speaking to a native speaker. Try to think of it in this way and you will see that you will progress much faster.
Enjoy the Process, See the Progress
While doing all this, do not forget to continue listening to the language on a daily basis and doing things that you enjoy. Whether this is reading books, watching movies, or listening to songs, have fun! Make the language a part of you! If you do all of this, you are sure to progress. The time span is different for everyone but you will succeed.
Language learning is like being initiated into other spheres of existence, realities, and worldviews. Languages are windows into new cultures, new beings, and new selves. I have always used languages to better connect with myself, others, and my community. Bridging the gap is one solution to solving a lot of the contemporary problems present in our global ecosystem. It is a community-based participatory exercise founded on communication and mutual understanding.