If I’ve said it once, I’ve said it a thousand times; when it comes to language learning don’t put all of your eggs in one basket. So often I see or hear about prospective language learners seeking out a program such as Rosetta Stone or Pimsleur with the very simple and straight forward notion that all they have to do is sit down and slog through the course to reach proficiency.
For most people it doesn’t usually work out so well!
Regardless of whether systems like these work for you – or work at all – diversifying your language strategy can only improve your chances of reaching your desired proficiency as efficiently as possible. So here are some tried and true programs and techniques to help set you on the path to diversity.
1. Go Mobile!
I know – you’ve been resisting buying that overpriced zombie apocalypse device for a few years now, and fair is fair, they’re incredibly expensive and those horrible data packages are enough to make you cry huge, $ shaped tears of angst.
However, if its within your means but you’re resisting for reasons related to technophobia or a stalwart refusal to give into the huddled masses of glazed-eyed, drooling, slack jawed teenage yetis, it’s time give in and get yourself a smart phone!
Language learning was formerly something relegated to stuffy classrooms and – at best – your office computer where you fervently tried to install Rosetta Stone’s three hundred and fifty seven disk Arabic I-II-III set that cost you an entire paycheck and a minor aneurysm.
Today – with the entirety of the collective knowledge of mankind at your fingertips and the ability to fly through cyberspace with a few swipes of a finger – language learning can and should be taken to the next level.
There’re countless apps and programs that are easy to take with you wherever you go. Mobile learning allows you to fill any and all quiet, boring holes in your day with exercises, review or even podcasts, and audio courses. Not to mention you can fit a library that would put Ptolemy to shame in the palm of your hand and a music collection almost big enough to contain every Beatles song!
For more on mobile learning check out this article.
I can’t really stress this program enough. Memrise – in case you haven’t heard me prattle on about it enough already – is a free course creation platform that offers thousands of different user created “courses” on something ridiculous like 500 different languages – with more being added every day.
You can read this review to get a better idea of Memrise, but suffice it to say for now that if you’re reading this blog, you own a computer or mobile device capable of accessing the Internet and are thus capable of using Memrise, and you should get started immediately.
It won’t teach you a language all by itself, but it serves as a fantastic, fast, easy vocabulary booster and a great source of review to keep your head in the game.
It’s also a fun way to dip your toes in the water with a new, exotic language if you’re looking to taste something different.
Linqapp is a mobile app – currently available only for Android devices with iOS coming later this year – that you really shouldn’t go without. If you’ve followed my advice and taken your language learning on the go with a mobile device (or if you’re already doing that because you’re way ahead of the game) this one is a must-have.
Linqapp won’t teach you a language either. It serves as a reference system for fast, authentic feedback from native speakers of the language(s) you’re learning. We all have questions – this is how you get answers.
Have a question about how best to study the three different Japanese writing systems? Ask away and someone will respond to your question – usually in less than 12 hours.
****edit July 2017: Unfortunately Lingua.ly is no longer in business. They had a really great product and I’m very sad to see them go. I wish the Lingua.ly team all the best in their future endeavors.
Lingua.ly is a web app, which for those of you who are less technologically savvy, is a plugin that you can use via a supporting browser – in this case Google Chrome. It’s an app for your computer, which is cool!
This program allows you to highlight and translate words or phrases in anything you read on the Internet into the language you’re learning, or from the language you’re learning into English (or whatever your native language is).
But the madness doesn’t stop here. Lingua.ly then acts as a flashcard app giving you the ability to flip through and study the words you want to study, rather than some predetermined drivel with no relevance to you.
Oh, but that’s not all! Most importantly this web app then takes the words you know and actually finds real news articles from around the world written in the language you’re studying, custom tailored to your own level of proficiency!
There is also a mobile app available for Android systems. Your cards and level of study are carried across all devices so you can always find something new to read.
Lingua.ly is the perfect way to practice and improve your reading comprehension and speed. Check out a much more in depth review here.
5. Podcasts and video channels.
Since most of us can’t just up and travel the globe for that authentic immersion experience we’re stuck at home, on our butts, with the not inconsiderable resources we have at our fingertips.
A lot of polyglots, linguists, and educators maintain active podcasts and video channels where they document their own learning processes or offer advice and basic listening exercises to their subscribers.
Most of these podcasts are free – I wouldn’t usually recommend using one that isn’t – and YouTube is always free, so there’s no reason not to check out some of these channels.
I’ve already done some of the work for you! You’re always welcome to check out our “Video Channels and Podcasts” page via this link or the tab at the to of this page for a list of some prominent vloggers and polyglot personalities.
We’re always looking to add more so if you yourself have a channel, either of your own work or someone that you follow, please don’t hesitate to send it my way!
You can do this with your mobile device too.
6. Software Course
Sometimes what you need to keep focused is the structure that comes with a full blown language course. You can take one at a college or university or even online sometimes, but these are often extremely expensive, not local and otherwise inaccessible. Most of us are relegated to buying products such as Pimsleur, Rosetta Stone, Rocket Languages or Living Language.
I’ve always had a stressed relationship with these products. Primarily; they’re overpriced for what they do and their effectiveness is so often called into question.
My advice – if you’re going to be shoveling out several hundred dollars for a product like Rosetta Stone, just do your research first, and try to find other systems. If you’ve got your heart set on this program, or you’ve used it before and are happy with it, it’s your money.
But regardless of cost – programs like these can often form a nice core curriculum for a language learner. Rocket Languages in particular offers a simple layout to their course that makes it easy to then use additional resources along side a primary learning source.
Again, I don’t specifically endorse the use of all of these products, but owing to the overwhelming popularity of Rosetta Stone people are going to continue to use them anyhow. Best thing to do is to diversify and use more than just one system!
Most of these programs do now come with companion apps for, you guessed it, your phone or tablet.
I know you still have some kicking around somewhere.
You remember them right? The paper things that you keep on a shelf, or in a bag, or in stacks on the floor. You may not have actually read one since school. Maybe you keep all of your reading on your mobile device now anyhow.
No matter where you keep your books today – when it comes to language learning, they’re still valid.
A couple months ago we actually did a survey here on this site that took stock of visitors’ favorite language learning methods. The winner by far was “books”. I’m not sure if only the traditionalists among you voted, or if books are genuinely still the preferred method, but either way their value, even among contemporary tools like smart phones and tablets, cannot be ignored.
You can find language learning books, dictionaries and texts online and in most bookstores. You may have to order resources online for some of the less commonly spoken languages, but books tend to be a relatively inexpensive resource – at least when compared with some alternatives.
Looking to save money? You can read an enormous selection of eBooks with the free Kindle Reading App available for most devices (including your computer!). Amazon has an enormous selection of language and linguistics books and texts for lower prices than hard copy equivalents.
8. Surround yourself with entertainment!
Movies, video games, music, everything else you can think of. Hopefully you know why you’re learning a given language, and hopefully it is at least in part because of a love for or at least an interest in the culture of its speakers.
Listen to their music, try to become accustomed to the way their voices rise and fall or how certain words are inflected. Listen to how they use slang or regional lingo.
Some have cited that watching foreign films and listening to music is not a seriously effective way to learn a new language – and I would agree that by itself it probably won’t do the trick, but the goal here is to keep your learning fun and entertaining. If you let your language project become a chore you’re more likely to lose motivation.
9. Take some time off to learn about the culture.
Grinding yourself into the ground focusing on grammar, vocabulary and new writing systems can quickly begin to wear on you and your motivation. Perhaps its just the anthropologist in me but I fail to see why anyone would learn a language without taking any sort of interest in the culture that surrounds it.
So when things start to bear down on you, take some time off to read about the people who speak the language you’re learning. Read about its history, where it came from. Spend some time learning about the language family it’s a member of and try to catch up on current cultural trends.
Taking some time off from active learning often gives me renewed energy when I start back up again a day or two later. You’d be surprised how much you do in fact remember and how easily it can be to slip back into your groove.
Sometimes the additional perspective alone is sufficient to reignite your passion for the language.
10. Speak a lot! Often!
What good would any of this be if you weren’t communicating in your new language?
It doesn’t really matter how you do this, be it a fellow language learner, learning with a friend or family member, traveling abroad, working with a teacher, online or in person.
Take any and all opportunities to speak your language to someone who will be receptive to working with you, or at least listening to you.
You can and should attempt to fit some sort of speaking exercise with another human being into your typical study routine. This can be difficult but there are so many people out there worth talking to and you only have so many years to reach as many as possible.
Better start now.
Languages Around the Globe will always be free. However there are expenses with keeping a website up and running and devoting time and energy to provide you with more, high quality content. LATG is supported by Patreon. Click below to become a patron and earn some cool stuff for your generosity. We’re currently working to make the website advertisement free for your convenience!