If you’re dreaming of ordering that glass of pinot noir in perfect French, giving directions to a camera-clicking group of tourists in Japanese or arguing in nice loud German like the best of ‘em, fear not. Learning a foreign language isn’t an impossible dream fit only for diplomats’ kids.
So why is your level still as half-baked as a bad lasagne?
If, like so many would-be bilinguals, the idea of getting cosy with textbooks or memorising a zillion tenses makes you want to poke a stick in your eye, then you’re in luck. You see, while you may still have to darken the door of a classroom, there are a number of other tips to help you get speaking better, faster – all while having a whole lot of fun. Behold:
5 Completely Non-boring Ways to Learn a New Language
1. Find a language exchange partner
Language exchanges – sometimes known, amusingly, as “tandems” – are incredibly straight forward and enormously beneficial. You and a native speaker of the language you wish to learn meet up to practice each others’ language in turns. Imagine you’re learning French and Amelie’s studying English. Well, you’ll meet up say, once a week to chat for an hour in English, then an hour in French. Language exchanges are great as an addition to classroom time, as they’re more informal and entirely self-directed: you can ask, for example, to be taught slang, job or travel-specific vocabulary. Also, and perhaps most importantly, they happen wherever you want. Do you want to learn about art? Go to a gallery and chat about the paintings. Fitness and sport? Head to the gym, a game or visit a sportswear store. Food? Dozens of restaurants and cafes are just waiting for you to visit…
Find your language exchange partner through pinboards at language academies, friends of friends, online expat forums or private class search sites. (Ladies, a word of warning, though: If Pedro says he “prefers women who want to learn Spanish in exchange for salsa lessons,” well, he’s got his Latin lover gene on overdrive. Avoid.)
2. Have a glass of wine
Really, this one translates to “chill out.” We all know that going for a drink with friends is an almost instant mood-lifter, and well, the same’s true whether it takes place in English or otherwise. If you’ve been feeling tongue-tied or nervous about your skills in your chosen language, it’s just about guaranteed that you’ll instantly become 10 times more fluent after a nice mojito. Ahh the phenomenon of lowered inhibitions. Amazingly, even if you’re not speaking perfectly, you’ll be less critical of every single little word you say. (And when you’re a few months into learning a new language and hit the inevitable plateau where you never seem to improve, getting lots and lots of speaking practice – the trust-in-yourself-and-go-with-the-flow-kind, not the kind where you ask for clarification after every second word you utter – is key.)
Remember: keep it non-messy, and it works. Now, where’s the bottle opener?
3. Learn with friends
If you’re struggling to amp up your learning because you’re sick of your own company, then this one’s for you. Got real, live friends also learning your target language? Quiz each other over a cup of coffee and flashcards, read foreign-language blogs or watch movies together. Are you part of an online language-learning community? Participate. Correct peoples’ exercises and submit your own. Feeling like you’re not alone and having people to be accountable to makes your goal all the more real.
4. Date a native speaker
(Preferably one that doesn’t speak English, that is!)
It’s unanimous that hooking up with a speaker of your foreign language amps up your level. So get out there and find yourself a lovely Argentinian, Korean, Egyptian or Italian. Talk up a storm while looking into each others’ eyes! Whisper sweet nothings! Even if at first you have 8 words between you…
(Be careful with this one, as it can truly work: I have two great friends who are now married to foreign men they met when neither partner knew any more than “Hi.” I was even one friend’s text message interpreter i.e. “Jorge says you’re meeting this afternoon for coffee and wants to know whether you know Pepe’s Cafe on the corner of such-and-such?”)
5. Singing loudly and without shame
When I lived in Barcelona, my U.S. housemate and I grew just a little bit obsessed with Marc Anthony. So colourful was our obsession that we printed out song lyrics, wrote them out on coloured paper with big Nikko pens, learned them by heart and sang and danced together in our living room. We looked like enormous dorks. But we learned a bucketload of vocabularly and have the added bonus of still being able to sing his stuff word for word, six years later (guys, it truly is a bonus!).
So, long live dorkiness! Grab a bunch of artists’ music, create yourself a little iTunes song file and download the lyrics. Then, play your music at full pelt while washing the dishes, doing housework or exercising. Ignore all strange looks from your family or housemates. Better yet, teach them the lyrics and sing along together, Von Trapp style…
What have I missed? What are some other completely fun, totally non-boring ways to learn a foreign language?