Learning a second language doesn’t have to involve A-Level or GCSE classes at school, or spending money on a personal tutor. There are many ways of picking up a second language, some of which you may not have thought of. In this article we look at some of the best.
Learning a language is not just about what happens in the classroom. By travelling around a country, and immersing yourself in its culture, you’re likely to pick up a fair amount of the language. This includes colloquial language that you wouldn’t necessarily have learnt from more formal lessons.
At first you may well struggle with the language, and your own confidence, but in no time at all you’ll find yourself communicating with locals, ordering the correct sandwich, making sense of the media and navigating directions. Think of yourself as a sponge, the longer you’re in a certain place, the more of the language you’ll soak up.
2. Speak to the natives
It’s not always as easy as upping sticks and travelling to a new country. But you can still communicate in your language of choice if you can find the right people.
Having a friend or family member who speaks the language you want to learn is an invaluable tool. You can practice your spoken skills with them and they can help by teaching you new words, phrases and the correct pronunciation.
As they will probably be living far away from their home country, chances are they’ll undoubtedly love the opportunity to speak their native language and will be proud to showcase their skills.
3. Attend free events
Many places around the world, especially big cities such as London, Manchester, Sydney and New York, have large immigrant populations that celebrate their own cultures and countries. London, for example, has more French people than Bordeaux, Nantes or Strasbourg and is now regarded as France’s sixth biggest city in terms of population.
Find out about these communities and events that are happening as these are the perfect places to make friends and soak up some of the culture and language. These events are often free to attend and, as well as giving you invaluable language practice, they are also generally lots of fun.
If you are in your target language’s native country then even better; there will be plenty of events for you to attend. These could include council meetings, lectures and Q&As with famous people, and gallery and exhibition openings.
The way language is used in music is very interesting and a great way to expand your vocabulary. The catchy and repetitive nature of many songs means that you will pick up new phrases, and you might also discover that you have a passion for an obscure music genre – Danish Black Metal, anyone?
After listening to a song a few times, pick up a pad and pen and try and jot down the lyrics. After you’re confident doing this, you can also try and analyse the song meaning and even write a review (in either your first or second language). Start off with slower pop music and ballads, as these are much easier to understand vocally, and then, once you’re feeling adventurous, you could move on to some fast-paced rap music.
5. Film and television
Film and television can offer you similar practice to listening to music. You can play similar games with subtitles by turning them off and trying to transcribe dialogue then rewinding to check your translation. You can even play a memory game, where you listen and then try and speak along with the characters.
Once again, you could try and write a review or, if you have a video camera or decent smartphone, you could record yourself doing a mini TV-style review in your second language, and even upload it to YouTube and see what response it gets.
If you’re feeling confident you should, without question, go and see a foreign film at the cinema where there will be no help from subtitles or the rewind button. You’ll really have to test your skills and stay fully engaged at all times.
6. Take a course on your own terms
Courses are one of the best ways to learn a language because of their more structured approach. If you do feel that a course would be the best way of learning for you, but you’re worried about spending money on expensive fees, there are plenty of great options available.
You could consider online learning, which takes away the cost of a classroom and means you can study at any time of the day, often for free – check out the BBC, for example. Or, you could study from a text book, which means you need plenty of drive and determination but you have all the answers in a book that would cost around the same amount as one hour’s lesson.
Another great option is to look out for classes taught by trainee teachers, who are just trying to gain experience. You can learn for free, or very cheap, and they get classroom teaching hours – it’s a win-win situation.
There are also some fantastic flexible and affordable courses available – check out a good school, such as www.malvernhouse.com, for more details.
7. Language swap
This is an effective and challenging way of improving your second language, although it does require a lot of effort on your own part. Find a speaker of your target language and spend time teaching each other your native tongues. This way you’ll save money, make a new friend and learn lots of new words, phrases and more.
If you struggle to find someone to do a language swap with, you could try to advertise online. Once you have become proficient teaching your own language, who knows, you could even consider training to become a professional teacher?
8. Newspapers and novels
Immersion is crucial. Perhaps once or twice a week, during the time you would normally read or surf the internet, you could substitute this for a newspaper, website or novel in your target language. You may not understand all of it, but by knowing the odd word here and there and having a good dictionary, you will soon start to make progress.
9. Phrase books and dictionaries
Once you’re feeling confident with reading, you could invest in some advanced phrase books or a dictionary and learn a word or phrase a day, which you should use as often as possible. Set yourself mini challenges, such as writing a short story using all the words you have learnt in the last week.
10. Talk in your language for a set time
Set yourself a task to talk in your target language for a set time. This works particularly well when you are living or travelling around the language’s native country.
Of course, these are all just suggestions and there are many options out there, all of which will suit individual’s circumstances differently. If you prefer a more formal course of study, and want to learn English in London in particular, there are many great options available at some of the city’s fantastic English language schools.