It’s an open secret that the best way to learn a language is immersion which means that you are surrounded by the language you want to learn for as long as possible throughout the day. And the Internet did not change that.
If you take a look at surveys on language learners like recent ones from busuu or Kaplan, between 23% to 65% of learners think that the best way to learn a foreign language is to travel abroad and learn in a classroom with other foreigners.
Being an expat myself, I know what a boost living in another country will bring to your language skills. Being forced to talk French most of the time has really helped me to reach fluency in a couple of months. Of course, I had had a good basis before I relocated but every language learner knows that putting your grammar and vocabulary knowledge into work once you are faced with a native speaker is a whole different story.
Another difference between speaking the language in the country or the classroom are the cultural aspects. The language you learn in books and classrooms is often very sterile and has little in common with how the locals speak. Learning how the language is used in real life is another aspect you can only find when living abroad.
Nevertheless, most of us can’t pack their bags and relocate to another country just to polish our language skills. And though the Internet and technology are not perfect they can still get us our daily dose of immersion.
For example, more and more TV and radio stations around the globe are streaming their shows on the Internet or have it available on demand. I recently shared three quality resources from Germany, lately. Watching shows or news in the language you want to learn also gives you cultural context, for example when the news team interviews people from the street.
The same is of course true for online magazines and newspapers. You will find tons of relevant outlets on the Internet that will suit your needs and interests.
Music and podcasts are another way to surround yourself with your target language. Just grab your mp3 player and load it with songs, audio books or simple vocabulary lists in the language you want to learn. Another positive side effect of this way to learn a language is that walking while you listen will enhance your memory performance according to new research.
All of this said, remember: you are the boss of your learning mix! Don’t pick content you are not interested in! You need to be willing to spend a maximum of time immersed in the language you want to learn. If your passion is football then embrace it and look for sources that cater your taste like fan magazines, sports news broadcasts and such. If you are into cooking why not buy the next recipe book in the language you want to learn – what could be better than learning French or Italian from a top chef?
You should always know why you are learning a language. Unfortunately, there is the tendency of losing sight of our goal along the way, especially when things get rough and we get stuck, something that is going to happen at some point, sooner or later, in everybody’s language learning journey.
So keeping in mind why you initially started learning and refreshing this reason along the way can help us to stay focused and to reach our goal.
I suggest to sit down and make a list of reasons why you want to learn a particular language before you even start. Don’t bother about finding “important” reasons but concentrate on writing down why you really want to learn your target language as this is going to be important later on.
If you want to learn Japanese in order to be able to read Mangas, watch cartoons or learn in a dojo, these are all valid reasons and motivations for you. And that’s what counts! If you find more reasons along your way add them to your list. Later on you can also prioritize them, if you like.
The thing is, when you get to the point where you seem to be stuck and you lose your motivation, it is far easier to grab your list and go through the reasons than sitting down and remembering them. If you are already down you won’t find the motivation to self reflect on why you started this. If you like you can even record a video of yourself holding a motivational speech in the past.
Another trick, especially when you are a foodie like me, is to treat yourself with delicatessen that are famous in the country you are learning the language of. If you are learning French get the best French cheese, some really good Baguette, a bottle of Bordeaux or make yourself a big café au lait and have a fresh Croissant. Play some local music as background noise when you are learning or go out and visit the best Tapas bar or Sushi restaurant in town. Allow yourself to imagine to be there.
This is also a part of the immersion process we talked about in our first post of this series. It also helps you to stay focused or bring the enthusiasm back when you are in a down period.