Five Fun Strategies for Studying Foreign Languages

#1. Learn Foreign Songs

One of my favorite ways to study a new language is by looking up lyrics to either a current pop song or a song that’s considered a “classic” in the foreign language. If you enjoy the song enough to listen to it on repeat, you’ll start to memorize the words and build a vocabulary that is likely not in the introductory lessons of language learning. It can get a little boring to practice normal phrases like “my name is…” and “how are you?” you all the time. Learning song lyrics is one way to sprinkle some variety into your vocabulary. Music is part of culture and learning popular or well known songs can give you insights into the culture as well as give you something interesting to talk about with people you meet. You might even find that you have similar tastes in songs and bond over that!

#2. Watch a Foreign Movie

I love watching a movie in the language I’m studying, mainly because it doesn’t feel like studying. It’s probably best to watch a movie at least three times. First, watch it without any subtitles and see how much of the story you can follow with just the limited words you know and the visual and audible context clues. Then watch the movie again with foreign language subtitles. The subtitles should help you catch a few more words and phrases you already know as well as help you recognize commonly used words (even if you don’t know what it means, you can look it up later or during the movie). Watching the movie a second time will also help you piece the story together a little better, especially since you have an idea of how it ends. Finally, watch the movie a third time with English subtitles to find out how much of the story you actually understood. Depending on how much you understood and how creative you are, watching a foreign film in this way may not be as redundant as you might think. Like a good game of telephone, the first two times you watch the movie, the storyline you imagined may be completely different than the true storyline. 

This method sort of simulates being immersed in a foreign language environment. When you’re in a foreign country, you won’t understand everything that is going on around you so you will need to rely on other clues to glean what is happening or what is being said. It is a good exercise to test how good you are at making leaps to understand situations when you only understand a limited amount of words. As a bonus, there aren’t any consequences if you’re wrong. It is also a good way to pick up real, every day, vocabulary and colloquialisms. 

If you have a favorite movie, you might be able to find it dubbed in the language you are learning. The advantage of doing it this way is that since you already know the story, when you hear it in the foreign language, you’ll find yourself saying, “Oh, that word must mean (blank)”.  I’ve been able to find popular Hollywood movies dubbed in Chinese (a language I’m studying) with Chinese and English subtitles in stores in Chinatowns and online.  I’m sure you could find something similar for other languages online too. You might even find that some of the DVDs that you currently own also have options for the audio in other languages in addition to subtitles in foreign languages. Check to see if the language you are learning is one of them!

Learning new vocabulary words through movies helps in remembering the words because you associate it with other things that are memorable like a scene, a quote, or a memorable visual. It also helps you get used to normal speech, the speed, the intonation, and even the unclear, mumbling nature of natural speech that is different from radio or newscasters’ clear, purposeful, and enunciated speech. Watching a movie in a foreign language with foreign subtitles is one of the best ways to practice and learn a language because you can practice listening and reading at the same time through an enjoyable medium. 

#3. Watch YouTube videos

Have you ever wasted hours of your life streaming YouTube videos? Well now you don’t need to feel guilty about it! Just do it in the foreign language that you’re studying! Pick whatever topics interest you whether it’s cooking, travel, fashion, sports, or cars; it doesn’t matter. This is a fun way to pick up vocabulary on topics that you actually care about.

#4. Listen Passively

Passive listening isn’t fun per se, but it is EASY and that’s good enough for me! Most people are very busy and have a hard time finding time to dedicate to learning a new language, but with passive listening, you can multitask. Throw on a podcast or show in the language you’re learning and feel free to do other things while it’s playing in the background. Associate passive listening practice with an activity, such as driving or doing chores, to help you find a dedicated time to have passive listening practice.   

My preference is to find a few podcasts or radio shows that I like (either through AM radio or through an app that has foreign radio stations) and put it on during my morning commute to work or on the way home. This will give me at least a solid half an hour to an hour of “language practice” per day.  Since it is “passive listening”, I don’t feel guilty if I zone out or if my mind wanders for a few minutes here or there. The point is to have it on regularly so you are exposed to it more often. You will become very familiar with the sounds of the language and the common voice inflections and intonations you hear will make it easier for you to imitate. It will also help in reinforcing the basic vocabulary you already know because you will hear it constantly in every day speech. 

Another good time to have passive listening practice is either while you’re cooking or doing chores.  You can put on a podcast, find a video online, foreign movie, or find a tv channel in the target language. I recommend listening to actual speech over foreign language songs for passive listening practice because, my personal opinion is that it’s more effective, but if you’re having “one of those days” and you don’t feel like practicing, it would be better to at least listen to songs in the foreign language than to have no practice at all. You might even be able to find songs you like which you can use to study the lyrics (refer to the first strategy on this list). 

Over time, you will find that with almost little effort, you will understand more and more. Passive listening is surprisingly effective and I highly, highly recommend it.

#5. Practice Speaking and Laugh at Yourself

Speaking is probably the hardest of all the skills (reading, writing, listening, speaking) when acquiring a new language, but it is very necessary. You will feel silly at first and maybe even embarrassed to speak to anyone.  My biggest tip is to just brush it off and be willing to laugh at yourself if you say something with the wrong pronunciation or use the wrong word.  It’s all a learning experience and however embarrassing the moment, it will likely help you to remember it correctly the next time. 

One way to ease into speaking is to practice reading out loud. Another way is to listen to audio, like a podcast, and repeat the words as it’s being spoken or, if that’s too difficult, pause the podcast after each sentence or phrase so you have time to repeat the words. Try to sound just like the speaker, emphasizing where they emphasize, etc. I sometimes like to imagine I’m an actor who is playing a role which requires learning lines in a foreign language for a film. I don’t know why this helps me “get into it” more, but it does. I guess it’s more believable that an actor would be able to deliver lines in a foreign language more convincingly than I could….even though I’m the one playing the actor…lol.  It doesn’t need to make sense, it just needs to work, and that logic works for me **shoulder shrug**.  Maybe it will help you too.  

This last tip is for those that are over the age of 21.  If you haven’t guessed it, it’s because it involves having a drink or two. Whenever I’d go out with friends in China, we’d inevitably get some drinks.  By the end of the night, I’d always get compliments from the locals on how well I spoke Chinese. It’s amazing how well people can speak a different language when they let their inhibitions down. Another way to accomplish this is by doing something really silly so that speaking (in a foreign language) in comparison, doesn’t seem as silly.  If you’re at home, you could jump up and down, waiving your limbs, shouting “boom-chicka-boom”, “oogalie-boogalie”, or something like that. This gets your blood flowing, gives you a few laughs, relaxes you, and frees you to be more comfortable speaking in another language because you’re already in a mood to be silly. The point is to have fun with it!

Best of luck in your language learning journey! Hope these five strategies will help you along. If you have any questions on what I’ve written above, would like me to expound on a particular point, or if you have requests for future blog topics, please let me know in the comments below!

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