Learning another language is one of the most intellectually rewarding activities around. At the same time, if you don’t have the option to become completely immersed in the culture of the language it can be an uphill struggle to become fluent. Here’s a list of things you can do to help you along without increasing your classroom hours.
1. Language Swaps
Even though it might not be possible to move to a country where your target language is widely spoken, it’s likely there are people from there living close to you. It’s a good idea to look into language swaps—where you meet up with a speaker of your target language and they give you practice speaking the language in return for the same in English. Have a look at both physical and online noticeboards for your area or take out an ad yourself. If you live too remotely, you can look into doing a language swap on Skype or another platform.
Language learning websites and apps like Duolingo and Babbel have become hugely popular in recent years. Ideal for using on your smartphone when commuting, they have moved beyond translation and listening exercises to incorporate speaking practice too. An ideal option for learning whenever you have downtime.
If you want to go all out with language learning, a good method is to use labels like sticky notes to tag everything in your living space. If applied consistently, this technique will not only increase your vocabulary but also encourage you to think in your target language.
4. Keep a Diary
If you’re the type to keep a diary or journal, consider writing down your thoughts in the language you’re trying to learn. Don’t worry too much about getting everything right: remember, this is private and the only objective is to get you thinking in and using another language.
5. Translate a Story
If you’re learning a new language then you’ve probably been advised to read in it already, but you should also consider translating a favorite story or two. Start small: think of a children’s story or fairy tale that you like and translate it. As you progress, you can start translating more complicated stories.
This one is probably most beneficial for intermediate to advanced learners, but even those just starting out can reap rewards from listening to podcasts and/or talk radio in the target language. The best thing about this technique is that it is completely passive—you can listen as you exercise or commute, and even if you don’t understand everything right away it will greatly help your comprehension skills in the long run.
Whatever method you choose to help you with language learning, it’s important to try to strike a balance between the four key skills of reading, writing, listening and speaking. Outside of the classroom, it is a good idea to target the skills you’re weaker at and work on them. Remember too that learning grammar and vocabulary is only a small part of the process.