The Best Way to Learn a Language is to Use the Language
Have you ever started studying a new language and failed?
Maybe you spent months or years studying grammar books and still found that you couldn’t communicate very well. Maybe you’ve even gotten to a place where you felt like speaking a new language is not for you.
Well, you are not alone. Language learning is difficult, and we often go about learning a new language in ways that aren’t effective. As a language teacher, I can tell you that it’s common for my students to think that they have to learn every possible grammar rule and memorize every word.
Oh, the drama of learning a language.
But actually, memorizing grammar rules is not the best way to learn a language. The best way to learn a language is to use the language—and use it consistently. Sure, you need some understanding of the grammar and you need vocabulary. But learning through conversation or by engaging with texts in your target language.
Pimsleur’s language lessons are great for this because they build up gradually and focus on learning through real conversation exchange. But there are other ways you can surround yourself with constant stimuli so that you can build language learning into your daily routine.
Here, I’ll share with you some of my favorite simple and effective ways to build language learning into your day so that you’re consistently engaging with it.
8 Simple and Effective Ways to Build Language Learning Into Your Daily Routine
1. Change the Language on Your Phone
How many hours a day are you on your phone? RescueTime estimates that people spend an average of 3 hours and 15 minutes a day, with the top 20% of smartphone users spending upwards of 4 hours and 30 minutes. Surprised?
Why not make that time that you’re learning your language?
One way to do this is to set your device’s language to the language you want to learn. With this simple action, you’ll quickly and naturally learn a ton of vocabulary. If you’re learning Portuguese, for example, imagine how it would be like if, every time you checked your phone, you saw “Segunda-feira” instead of Monday, or “Amanda está ligando” instead of “Amanda is calling”. Your phone will become an immersion device.
2. Make an App Part of Your Morning Routine
There are literally thousands of apps to improve your language and vocabulary.
They range from dictionary apps, to games that teach new words, to specific apps for language learning. Some of them send daily notifications at specific times to remind you to study. Our favorite, of course, is the Pimsleur app, available for both Android and iOS.
Pimsleur is focused on teaching language skills through real conversation. It’s a lot more effective than matching words and images on a screen (like some other apps). It will actually teach you how to actually speak. Guaranteed!
But check out the App Store on your device and find one or a few that work for you. Then consider building them into your morning routine: learn Italian while you have your morning coffee, or French while enjoying a croissant.
3. Read the News in Your Target Language
Reading news is a common habit for lots of people. With internet access, it’s as easy as ever to stay up to date with the news in any language you want to learn. And you may even be able to get a unique perspective that you’re not used to.
The Google News app can help you with this; it gives you access to newspapers and reports from around the world.
Or, for country-specific news sites, try the following
- For French, you can access the newspaper Le Monde
- If you’re learning Japanese, you can read Asahi Shimbun
- For Portuguese, try O Globo
- To learn Spanish, try El País or BBC Mundo
- For Italian, check out la Repubblica
- For Korean, Dong-a Ilbo (동아일보) is a good choice
- German learners can try Der Spiegel
4. What About a Little Culture?
Engaging with a country’s culture is a fun way to learn a language.
If you like music try making your playlist a little more international. Look for artists who sing in the language you want to learn or check out the top songs in a particular region. You can listen to these new bands and artists when you’re in traffic, in the waiting room for your doctor’s appointment, at the gym, running around in the park, or wherever. It’s constant and fun learning.
Don’t forget to, whenever possible, look for the lyrics of the songs you are listening to so you can improve your vocabulary (and maybe even level up to a karaoke session).
You can also follow YouTube channels with content in the language you want to learn. A video a day about your favorite subject (fashion, sports, movies, etc.) can be a great step to improve your listening skills.
5. Make Your Netflix Subscription Worthwhile
Learning a new language through immersion doesn’t mean you have to pack your bags and move to Europe for three months. Watching movies and TV series is one of the best strategies for learning.
Why? They offer cultural immersion with real, authentic dialogue, similar to those you will find on the streets. In the Netflix catalog, there are thousands of options in many languages.
If you prefer to watch your favorite movie with the subtitles set in the language you want to learn, here’s a great way to do that: this Chrome extension lets you watch shows with two subtitles on at the same time so you can visually pair translations with dialogue. It’s a great way to gain new vocabulary.
In addition to helping you learn, movies are a great way to increase your cultural knowledge, relieve stress, and give you something interesting to talk about with your friends at the bar.
6. Take Advantage of Your Commute
Rather than waste your commute playing candy crush or thinking about your ex, why not use it as an opportunity to study? Maybe it’s five minutes, or maybe it’s an hour; any time helps with learning a language, especially if it’s consistent.
If you don’t have to drive, try reading or writing. Search for articles, read books, write in your journal, or even chat with a native using a chat application. Your commute may become your most productive language practice time.
7. Talk to Yourself.
Every family has that person who talks to themself. You could be that person. Let me explain.
When I was new to learning Portuguese, I would often practice basic conversations in the shower. I would play both sides of the conversation:
“Hello, could I please buy a bus ticket?”
“Yes, that will be 5 reais.”
“Can I pay by card?”
… and so on. It may feel a bit weird at first, but it’s a great way to practice speaking when you don’t have a partner and to identify when there is vocabulary that you are struggling with.
A Brazilian friend of mine who is learning English takes this a bit further and actually records herself. She developed the habit of choosing random subjects and talking about them alone for several minutes. As time goes by, she can listen to herself and can see how much she has improved.
Your smartphone probably has an application for voice recording. You can use it to make notes and record long monologues. It may be awkward at first, but I guarantee that it will help improve your speaking skills.
8. Let Your Fingers do the Talking
Do you journal?
To keep a diary you no longer need a padlocked notebook, as in the old day; just an app with a password. There are thousands of options, like Day One, available on IOs and Android, where you can record everything you want, with voice notes, videos, and images.
Writing a diary can work as a therapy: you can vent as much as you like and practice your writing skills at the same time. Diaries also work as time travel; you can go back and reread what you wrote and see how things have changed (including how your language has developed).
Build Language Learning into Your Routine
Learning a language doesn’t have to be sitting down for an hour at the library and doing grammar exercises. In fact, you’ll have much more success if you simply make language practice a part of your day-to-day life.
Practicing a little every day while you’re having your breakfast, on your way to work, or even in the shower will help you turn the corner in your language learning so that you see some real progress.
Ready to get started? Go for it!
Now that you’ve reached the end of this article, what about learning a new language in 30 days? Try a FREE LESSON on Pimsleur and start talking!