Any language learner will tell you that there are times during the process that the experience drags on or that their interest wanes and that it’s hard to get back in the game. Keeping your language learning experience fresh and exciting can be one of the hardest parts of the process. Here, Siôn Owen, Livemocha Blog contributor, shares 4 ideas on how to switch it up a bit.
by Siôn Owen
Language lessons, whether online or in-person, play an important role in building a foundation in your target language. But, as with many things in life, it’s easy to get stuck in a rut when following the same routine from week to week. There are times when what you really need is a change of scenery – a chance to get out of the classroom, leave the house, ditch the coffee shop, throw your phone and laptop out the window (not literally) and march fresh-faced into the real world. You need a language intervention, without spending hundreds of dollars on a flight. So, today I’ll share with you some of the places I’ve gone to beat the cabin fever, cross the language plateau, and say a big “so long, suckers!” to the nettlesome nincompoops back at my coffee shop. Let your language liberation begin.
You have to buy groceries anyway, right? And it’s probably one of the first things you’d need to do if you were to move to a country where your target language is spoken. So, wait until you’re due for a shop, then have your teacher (or another friendly native speaker) meet you for a lesson at the grocery store. As you go around the store, talk about various recipes you like to make and the ingredients you need, and have your teacher tell you the names of everything in your target language. Your teacher will likely also be able to comment on which items are common in his/her home country, and which are not. Then you can decide whether or not you could really live without lemons throughout much of Latin America, for example.
Is there an international film festival coming to town? Chances are there’ll be an interesting movie playing in your language of choice, so grab your teacher and enjoy an afternoon flick. Read the subtitles if you need to, then afterwards sit down for a drink and discuss the film. Ask your teacher to explain any parts of the story you didn’t understand, then perhaps talk about some of the scenery or locales featured in the film. Even if the movie turns out to be a bust, you’ll at least have learned a thing or two (hopefully). The last Brazilian flick I went to see was so bad I can’t even recall its name, but I did learn a few facts about the Amazon that may come in handy sometime at a cocktail party. I guess not every film coming out of Brazil can be a City of God.
This one’s fairly self-explanatory – invite a native speaker out to dinner at a restaurant featuring the food of his/her homeland. Ask your dinner date to talk about some of his/her favorite dishes on the menu – how they originated, which part of the country they’re from, when they’re most typically eaten, etc. If you want an extra authentic experience, try to do a little research ahead of time by calling the restaurant and asking if they have any waiters who speak the language. If so, reserve a table in their section and communicate entirely in your target language as if you were enjoying a meal on a leafy plaza in a foreign city.
If you haven’t already, sign up for the e-mail lists of the local groups and organizations that promote your target country and/or language. Whenever they have an event, make an effort to go and practice speaking with a bunch of likeminded people in your city. If you know a native who’s going, ask him/her to take you around the room and introduce you to some intriguing people. I recently went to a Brazilian soirée in Chicago and enjoyed some tasty drinks and snacks while chatting with Brazilian artists, businesspeople, and teachers. I had such a merry time that by the end of the night I was proclaiming how much I’m looking forward to drinking more capoeiras and watching more caipirinha next year.
Okay, I know having a consistent lesson schedule is important, and a good thing. After all, you have a busy life and can’t be running around town all week long. But don’t forget to change up your routine now and then and really experience the language in the real world. These little life hacks can help get your language mojo back, and better prepare you for your journey abroad.
So what are some of the ways you keep your language learning fresh? Share your thoughts and ideas in the comments; you might just help someone out of a rut.
Siôn Owen is a Livemocha contributing author and earth’s biggest fan of curry and Caribbean food. He’s learning Portuguese, and also loves helping people learn English on his Facebook page, Smash English. Siôn lives in Chicago, Illinois USA.