Sarah Gooding explores different methods to inject some foreign language fun into our lifestyles. This the first of a series exploring language and culture.
It’s widely understood that the best way to learn a language is by immersing yourself in a country where it is spoken. Surrounded by the sights and sounds of the language and culture, you can’t help but soak it up – whether that’s through chatting to the waiter, asking for directions or buying fresh produce at the local market.
What happens, though, when you’re relocating abroad and want to get a head start on picking up everyday words and phrases before jetting off? The answer is we all need to work a bit harder at incorporating foreign languages into our everyday lives. That’s not to say it’s impossible! Where there’s a will there’s a way, and once you start looking you’ll be amazed at what’s out there…
This is a great way to practice a language, especially if you tune into the news which is often read clearly, using good language, and in a neutral accent. Or you can make it seem less like a language learning chore and watch a documentary or film in a subject that interests you – it doesn’t matter if you don’t understand everything, as just listening to the language and getting the gist is great practice! With digital packages now the norm in many households, you should be able to pick up some television channels from the Continent, or further afield. If not, you can often pay to upgrade to a package that includes foreign television. For terrestrial viewing, why not try BBC2’s late-night Learning Zone which shows programmes dedicated to language learning.
As above, watching a film in a foreign language is an excellent, and fun, way to practice your favourite language. Most DVD rental stores have a ‘World Cinema’ section where you can take your pick. Put the subtitles on if you’re just learning, or switch them off if you’re feeling brave…
Harder to understand than the television, perhaps, as you can’t lip-read or follow any movement, foreign language radio is often easier to access than foreign language tv. Try internet radio for a wide, easily-accessible selection.
The rise of the internet has made news, articles, games and a plethora of other features available in almost any language we choose. Keep useful sources at your fingertips by bookmarking a foreign newspaper such as El País or Corriere della Sera, for daily news in your language of choice, or Google ‘language learning games’ for a few minutes of educational fun.
Listening to foreign music is a great way to practice a language without really trying. The more you listen to a song, the more familiar you become with the lyrics, and the more likely you are to find yourself singing it back to yourself – without even thinking about it. Check out the World Music section of your local music store, or, as above, just tune into a foreign radio station.
Magazines / Books
You can buy foreign language magazines and literature in the UK, although unfortunately you’ll pay more than if you bought them in-country. Still, reading is a great way to keep up a language and the investment usually worth it. Subscribe to a magazine you know you’ll read, or buy a magazine dedicated to your preferred country (eg. Italia! Magazine, Spain Magazine, France Magazine) where you’ll usually find phrases, vocabulary and recipes geared around a specific subject each month.
Language Exchange / Intercambio
Use the internet or the noticeboard in your local library/grocer to find foreign people living in your area wishing to ‘exchange’ language knowledge. This can take any format, but usually consists of chatting for one hour in your own language and then an hour in their language, to let you both practice. Make sure you meet in a public place, and language exchange is almost as close you can get to the ‘real thing’ – there’s no hiding from the person in front of you, yet the great thing is they won’t be judging you as they are in exactly the same situation!
Whether it’s through an Adult Education centre, your local university or a private centre running specialist courses, you should be able to find an evening language course in your nearest town or city. Cactus, for example, runs 10-week courses on various start dates throughout the year, in locations across London and nationwide. These are also available in New York and across the US. An evening class is a great way to meet like-minded people and stay motivated to learn (and improve) a language.
Online Language Learning
Get yourself kitted out with a headset and webcam and you can use your own computer to help you learn a language. Online learning can entail one-to-one lessons with your own private tutor. Lessons can take place any time of the day, for as little or as long as you like, and they are completely geared to you and your needs/interests. Online learning tends to be more expensive than other ways of learning, and as such it is popular with business people. University students with the latest technology and equipment are also keen to sign up to extra-curricular online learning.
Spending an evening in a local restaurant specialising in, say, Japanese cuisine, is a great way to surround yourself with your favourite language and culture. The décor and menu are usually in the foreign language, and the waiters often tend to be native speakers too – so why not surprise them and talk to them in their own language. And you never know, a glass of the local tipple sometimes goes a long way in aiding fluency too…