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101 Ways to Learn a Language

by Jo F

Post image for 101 Ways to Learn a Language

Sitting in a classroom conjugating verbs is one way to learn a language, but perhaps not the most interesting.

Here are 101 ideas of how to learn a new language in everyday life both at home and overseas.

READING

1) Find international restaurants with menus in both languages. Spend time studying foreign dishes and their English translations.

2) Check out a foreign edition of Vogue or GQ. Get your usual style fix in another language. Très chic!

3) Pick up your favorite children’s book in another language. You know the storyline already and the language will be simpler than War and Peace.

4) Take your morning coffee over a foreign newspaper. Start with the headlines and adverts and progress to whole stories.

5) Change your web browser settings. Tell your search engine you’d like your results in another lingo and see how you get around.

6) Read foreign packaging. Whether it’s in your local ethnic store or overseas, try to translate product descriptions.

7) Take tourist site literature in a foreign language. Learn about an ancient site with the native description.

8) Try to understand your shopping receipt. Matching your purchases back to your receipt can be a fun post-shopping game.

9) Cook a foreign recipe. At home or away find recipes written in another language and experiment. Your inherent cooking skills will help with some interpretation.

10) Watch a movie with foreign subtitles. Subtitles can be hard to ignore so use it as an opportunity to understand the foreign dialogue of an English film.

11) Buy your guidebook in the native language. As most guidebooks are read in snippets, this is good for short bursts of practice.

12) Enjoy a comic. Indulge your inner child and read foreign language comics. The minimal text and illustrations should make this an easy task.

13) Read graffiti. You’ll learn a ton of idioms and cultural references from street art that you might otherwise ignore. Take notes and look up the phrases later.

14) Study a local map. Learn the different words for streets, avenues, central squares, parks and places of interest.

15) Read your currency. From numbers written in words to native pledges and sayings, your currency has language value too.

16) Check out the visitors’ book in your hotel. Highs, lows, slang and inspirational quotes, visitors’ books are a rich source of foreign words.

17) Read the slogans on t-shirts. Whether it’s a subtle glance or full on stop and ask, get to the bottom of the meaning of foreign t-shirt statements.

18) Get a tattoo (or henna). Research a favorite local saying or your name in a foreign language and get it imprinted on your body.

LISTENING

19) Tune into a foreign radio station. Let interviews, jingles and music wash over you on a daily basis.

20) Switch your iPod off on buses. Listen to the busy chatter on buses and trains when you’re in a non-English speaking country.

21) Listen to a foreign cover of your favorite song. A Spanish version of Strawberry Fields forever is my favorite. Find yours and play it on repeat.

22) Watch a foreign language movie. With or without subtitles, most movie plots are fairly predictable so you can guess at the translation.

23) Get hooked on a cheesy sitcom. The language is basic but conversational and the high drama will help you improve your “feeling” phrases.

24) Sit near the wait staff/kitchen in a restaurant. Hearing orders called and instructions given in a ceaseless procession should hammer a few phrases home.

25) Watch the local news. There is little better motivations for learning a language than finding out what’s going on in the world around you…in another tongue.

26) Go to a local sporting event. From crowd chanting to team songs, the repetition will immerse you in more colloquial phrases.

27) Hire a local guide. Take a tour of the sights with a local and match what they say to what you see.

28) Hang out near the local university. Sharing gossip, making plans, and a bit of course discussion, listen in on student chat for a slice of everyday life.

29) Pick up a foreign language audio set in an art museum. Learn foreign colors and descriptions while seeing a city’s best treasures.

30) Fall asleep with your language CD playing. Who knows if subliminal learning is really effective, but isn’t it worth a try?

31) Learn ‘can you speak more slowly’. Don’t let local lingo pass you by. If you don’t understand, ask the person to repeat until you do.

32) Hit YouTube. Whether its instructional videos or adverts there is a wealth of foreign language videos freely available.

33) Get a local SIM. Hear all of your network messages in the native language.

SPEAKING

34) Join a game of football or volleyball on the beach. Pick up team talk, learn your left from your right and highs from lows.

35) Hit the bars and nightclubs. Improve your drink ordering skills while getting a chance to chat to the locals and sing along to foreign tunes.

36) Shun your native speakers. Whether it’s avoiding other English travelers or finding your local Eastern European enclave, seek out foreign speakers.

37) Haggle. One of the best ways to learn numbers is to haggle. Just make sure you have them right before you seal the deal.

38) Give your taxi driver your life history. Practice describing places with your overseas taxi driver. They’re usually interested in where you’ve been as well as where you’re from.

39) Get involved in a game of dominos with the locals. Locate the old men sat on street corners whiling away hours. Ask to join for local chat and some game phrases.

40) Withdraw money from a bank cashier not an ATM. Don’t take the easy route. Practice number at a foreign branch of your bank.

41) Make friends with the staff in your hotel. Brush up on basics – describe your name, where you’re from and discuss your family with local workers.

42) Accept dinner invitations. Many locals are more than happy to extend a dinner invitation. Don’t worry about awkward silences. This is a chance to get deeper than mundane chat.

43) Try telling a joke. A great conversation breaker and a good way to focus your learning on a topic rarely taught. Ask for a joke in return.

44) Play Pictionary. The image will be the same but shouting out the answer in a foreign language will test the speed of your memory.

45) Ask locals to take your photo. Practice describing angles and sights you want in your photo.

WRITING

46) Find a pen pal…or foreign friends on facebook. Join foreign facebook groups or scout out a traditional pen pal to strike up written chat.

47) Write your shopping list/reminders in a new language. Practice your vocabulary and play at being bi-lingual in everyday life.

48) Start a diary in your non-mother tongue. Capture your day’s actions and feelings in another language. You’ll see your diary entries grower longer each day.

49) Fill in foreign forms. Whether it is for real or practice, locate immigration or job application forms and fill them in for a good reminder of your basic details and some more formal stuff.

50) Send postcards in the native language. A short note back home with help you practice describing activities. Include a translation if needed.

51) Run your emails through Google Translate. Practice your business words by writing emails in another language. Run them through a translation program to see how you did.

52) Play Scrabble. Short words are easy to work with and a bit of competition can focus the mind.

53) Send thank you notes to hospitable locals. If you’ve accepted a dinner invite or stayed locally, extend your thanks with a short note to practice thanks.

SHOPPING AND TRANSACTIONS

54) Visit a foreign supermarket. With pictures on labels to assist, improve your knowledge of food and domestic products.

55) Shop at the fresh food market. Take the word skills learned at the supermarket and put them into practice ordering your fruit and vegetables at the fresh food market.

56) Explore the bakeries. Expand your patisserie knowledge and ordering skills at the local bakery.

57) Clothes shopping. A lesson in measurements, colors and numbers (sizes) comes free with every clothes shopping expedition.

58) Have your hair done. Practice describing styles, colors and hair care products at the hairdresser’s. If in doubt, take a photograph as back up.

59) Treat yourself to a spa. Body parts are the topic of discussion when you treat yourself of a foreign spa. Whether you’re after a foot, shoulder, back or neck massage, learn in a super relaxed setting.

60) Hunt down electrical bargains. From upgrading your camera to buying accessories, get some foreign techie jargon in the process.

61) Buy artisan products. Baskets, pottery and textiles are popular local products and are good for prompting discussion on the country’s traditions.

62) Head to the docks to buy fresh fish. Learn the foreign name for fish and seafood, discuss weight and find out cooking tips.

63) Have a dress or suit made. Take the skills learned while clothes shopping a step further. Talk designs, cut, size and color.

64) Browse a pharmacy. Understand the foreign equivalent for the lotions, potions and pills that are familiar at home.

OUT AND ABOUT

65) Don’t use maps. Practice asking for and receiving directions by leaving the map at home.

66) Arrange a home stay. Complete daily immersion can best be found staying with a local family.

67) Don’t rely on online. Buy bus tickets, hotel rooms and book tours in person to learn dates, times and prices.

68) Eat at street stalls with chalkboard menus. Without international translations, you’ll learn the food names pretty quickly.

69) Go on a fishing trip. Beyond the practice of fishing, you’ll find a local companion for the day and plenty of time to talk in a new language.

70) Take a cooking course. Boost your culinary vocabulary with a cooking course that will also teach you technical terms.

71) Learn to surf. Take lessons and hook into the local surf network. Easy going conversation practice will follow.

72) Join a gym. Take an aerobics or spin class in a foreign language to improve your knowledge of directions, speed and time.

73) Go see a local band. Progress from cover songs to native singing. Ask a fan to explain the gist of the lyrics.

74) Fly with a non-national airline. Pay close attention to safety instructions and announcements in another language and order your meal in the local lingo.

75) Take dance lessons. Twists and turns will be on the language list, but also the chance to chat. Ask about the origin of the dance you’re learning.

76) Become a local at a favorite cafe. Instead of repeating the same order in several cafes, find a local and get to know the staff for increased conversational interaction.

77) Date a local. Learn the language of love by dating a local or non-English speaker.

78) Check out a (peaceful) demonstration. Learn the political and social wants of a society by lingering on the outskirts of a peaceful demonstration.

79) Stay in a hostel. With upwards of six people per room you’re bound to find a mixture of nationalities and foreign travelers to practice your speaking.

80) Establish a safety plan. Read hotel evacuation procedures and explore hurricane and lava flow routes to expand your language skills while keeping safe.

81) Visit a botanical garden. Understand colors and the foreign equivalent for familiar flora and fauna.

82) Hire a bike. Understand the lingo for cycle paths and sights en route.

83) Go wine tasting. Learn how to describe hints of raspberry and oaky notes with an undercurrent of tobacco.

84) Rent an apartment. Get into the details of renting a room by learning the words for the rooms in an apartment and its facilities.

EMPLOYMENT

85) Get a job in a café. You’ll grasp the menu pretty quickly and you’ll be surrounded by foreign chit-chat all day long.

86) Work with kids. Whether you’re nannying or teaching English kids speak slowly and use basic words. They’ll also tell it to you straight when you make mistakes.

87) Volunteer in a local community. Not only will you rapidly pick up the lingo necessary to complete the task, you’ll befriend the locals and improve your conversation skills.

88) WOOF. Otherwise known as Worldwide Opportunities On a Farm, the WOOF scheme brings tourists into contact with local farmers and their language.

89) Teach English. Operate on a quid pro quo basis and for every word you teach, learn the foreign equivalent.

90) Become a tour guide in your home city. Recruit some keen foreign tourists for a day seeing your local sights. Encourage your new friends to describe your city in their mother tongue.

91) Join the Peace Corps. Live and work in developing countries, serve on a range of vital projects and learn a new language by immersion.

92) Get a job transfer. Get your company to fund your language learning by applying for a transfer to an overseas HQ. The work will be similar, leaving you free to focus on the language.

93) Help at an animal sanctuary. Ok, most animals can’t talk, but the local animal keepers can.

94) Work on a cruise ship. Want to pick up several European languages in one go? Work on a cruise ship that caters to European clients.

IMPROVE YOUR VOCABULARY

95) Carry a bi-lingual dictionary. Translate all unfamiliar words into their English equivalent.

96) Download a word a day app. Get new words pinged into your inbox or to your smartphone. You’ll learn words you might not otherwise come across.

97) Take flashcards to the beach or on bus journeys. Fill downtime consolidating what you’ve already learned.

98) Point and ask ‘how do I say’ at everything. Let your surroundings become a living dictionary.

99) Photograph new words. Get word prompts when you look back over your trip photographs.

100) Translate restaurant names. Don’t just eat in a place, understand the meaning behind it’s name.

101) Pick up a children’s puzzle book. Whether it’s a word search or crossword, give your vocabulary a simple test.

Are you fluent in a second language? How did you do it? Let me know in the comments below.

If you liked this, you might also like: 101 Ways to be Happy.

Main image: Asking for directions is a great way to improve your language skills. Photo by wentan.

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6 comments… read them below or Add a Comment

Andrew Weiler

Some innovative and interesting ways to learn a language here. The only thing I want to add here is just because you are doing something that looks like language learning does not necessarily mean it is helping you. It in fact could be taking you in the wrong direction. Yes there are a 101 ways to hammer in a nail but try using a spoon. Not only will you not succeed BUT if you persist long enough you may end up believing that you are the problem not the tool!
So by all means try different tool, but be mindful of what you are doing and you be the judge of whether it is helping ( in my words defined as- becoming more proficient in usage [NOT to be confused with memory] or possibly more confident.
Enjoy!

Alex Wolfson

Some great ideas here most of which will really help you to pick up language. I note that most of them have to be done in a country where a language is spoken – this is by far the best environment in which to learn a language and I believe that taking a few weeks of lessons in-country (such as those offered by ESL Language Travel) will give you the basis and tips and tricks like those suggested here will make you go even further.
Having lived and studied abroad I think the number one best way to perfect your language skills is to get a boyfriend or girlfriend who speaks that language.

Angela

Excellent tips, a real full immersion in local culture, the best way to learn a language!

Laurence

I just throw myself into it, make horrific mistakes, and learn as I go from the confuzzled looks on people’s faces ;)

Lauren

Learning a new language is a humbling experience. I’ve been in Taiwan for a year an a half now and my Chinese has improved exponentially compared to if I had stayed at home and tried taking a university class. Getting to the country certainly is the best way. You make a total fool of yourself in the beginning, but practice makes perfect. I’ve found that making friends that don’t speak English is the best way. Then you are forced to communicate in that language! At the university I attend, they actually give you discount at the cafe if you order in a language that is not your native-tongue and have sections of the cafe that you aren’t allowed to speak in your native language, they check!

Bruce Jones

Hi, number 89 is the best way, live overseas, be immersed by the language and work as an English teacher. You can teach English around the world and get paid if you have a TEFL Certification. One of the largest TEFL schools worldwide is International TEFL Academy http://www.InternationalTEFLAcadememy.com .

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