Living abroad is arguably the best way to learn a foreign language.
Can’t hop on a plane tomorrow?
Stay tuned. You’re about to learn how to simulate language immersion.
Lots of us language learners are far, far away from the countries where our target languages are spoken.
It feels like a darn shame, because being surrounded by the language every day provides endless opportunities for learning and practice. Plus, while living abroad you never have to go far to find someone who speaks the language you’re trying to learn.
Since it’s a common problem, that means that there are tons of solutions out there.
As it turns out, you can immerse yourself in language even if you don’t have the time, money or desire to become an expat tomorrow.
You can do this without leaving your community, your home or even your bed.
The key is to put yourself into situations where language learning is inevitable. Here are 12 ways to get started.
Immerse Yourself: 12 Ways to “Go Native” Without Going Abroad
1. Make technology work for you
You know that you aren’t living in France or China, but your computer doesn’t know that!
Immerse yourself and learn technical vocabulary by changing the digital language settings on your phone, camera, computer or TV. In addition to changing the universal settings on your devices, you can change the settings in individual programs, such as your internet browser. You can also change the language on websites or apps you use frequently.
This simple change can make language learning a part of the activities you do most, and this helps to reinforce a sense of immersion and ongoing commitment to your language learning goals.
2. Entertain yourself like a local
We all need to take breaks, but why not use your breaks as opportunities to continue to learn?
Instead of lazing on the couch with an English language TV show, find a show or video in the language you want to learn.
Soap operas can be a particularly good way to practice your language skills. Regardless of your personal feelings about them, you can’t deny that soap operas feature consistent characters and ongoing plot lines that stretch over a series of episodes. This repetition can help improve your comprehension and ensure that you have a chance to understand what’s happening before the action moves elsewhere.
Ask native speaking friends for suggestions about which shows are best, or do an online search for the most popular ones. If you have a TV channel that broadcasts in your target language, this is an ideal place to start. If not, look online for sites that provide clips and full episodes.
Still need inspiration? Check out FluentU.
FluentU takes real-world videos and turns them into personalized language learning lessons. We’ve got something for everyone, with content ranging from “the Hunger Games” and “Sharknado” to cartoons, documentaries, dramas, music videos, Coca Cola commercials and broadcast news.
With FluentU, you can just sit back, relax and read along with the subtitles. Alternatively, you can kick things up a notch with interactive learning features like flashcards and vocabulary lists. Not to mention, everything’s personalized for your learning level and style based on the content you’ve been watching. It’s perfect for figuring out which types of video resources work best for you!
Social media sites are another fun way to practice your language skills. Try looking things up or chatting with people in your target language using Pinterest, Reddit, Twitter, Facebook and other social media sites.
You can also listen to the radio, check out foreign-language podcasts and enjoy music in your target language. If you start entertaining yourself in your target language, you might be surprised how much additional learning you gain without feeling like you’re doing any work.
3. Keep up on news and current events
One of the best ways to sound like a native is to be aware of the hot topics within the community and use the same vocabulary locals use to talk about these things.
You’d probably follow the local news and talk with people on the streets if you lived abroad, but it’s remarkably easy to stay abreast of foreign news from your own home. Check out one of many online news sources. Ask native speakers what sites they use most, and browse the foreign language versions of international sources like the BBC and Google News.
4. Find a conversation partner
If you want to immerse yourself without leaving home, you need to find someone to talk with on a regular basis. That’s where a conversation partner comes in.
A conversation partner does not need to be a teacher. In fact, sometimes it’s better if your conversation partner isn’t a teacher because your goal isn’t to drill new vocabulary or work through lessons in a book. It’s about having a friendly conversation with a native speaker.
That friendly conversation can help you practice what you’re learning at home and give you a feel for the flow of the language. You’ll learn colloquial phrases and deepen your understanding of another culture. It can also keep you motivated, since you know you’ll need to use your language skills at least once every week or two.
To find a partner, start by talking to your friends and family members, and use Facebook to ask online friends for suggestions. You might be surprised how many people know someone who could help you. If this doesn’t work, post an announcement on a local community listserv, or try posting a note on the bulletin board at your library, school or coffee shop.
5. Sign up for a conversation club
Like a conversation partner, a club can give you opportunities to practice your target language and learn new vocabulary.
Although conversation clubs might not give you as many speaking opportunities as a one-on-one conversation might, there are many other advantages to a club.
First, the more the merrier! A club can introduce you to numerous other people interested in the language you’re studying, and these people may be able to provide you with information about new language learning opportunities or resources.
You also have the opportunity to hear many different voices in a conversation club. Experiencing the ways different people use language and watching other learners use the language can help you experiment with new ways to express your own thoughts.
Another advantage of a conversation club is that it gives you a chance to listen to a higher level of language than you may be comfortable speaking. This is especially useful for beginners, who may not be able to sustain a long conversation but can gain a lot by listening to more advanced speakers.
So, where to find clubs like these?
Many libraries offer conversation clubs, and so do some universities and colleges. Another option is to look for clubs through sites such as Meetup. If you can’t find a club in your community, why not start one yourself? All you need is a native speaker and a handful of people interested in learning the language.
6. Label your home
Want to get organized and improve your language skills at the same time? Start putting foreign-language labels on the things you use regularly.
Label your desk, window, coffee mug, bookshelf, anything you want! All it takes is masking tape and a pen (or if you like to be fancy, a label maker).
Seeing the word every time you use an item reinforces it in your mind and can help keep you motivated to learn more. It’s also an amazing way to bring language learning into your home and make it an everyday part of your life.
Just make sure you ask before labeling your roommate’s or spouse’s things!
The trick is sometimes mustering the motivation to create all the labels. Luckily, you can outsource your label-making for the most important words by using a Vocabulary Stickers set, which gives you well over 100 words to put on items you use and see every day around your home and office. They’re durable yet removable, and—for languages that have genders—they’re even conveniently coded by grammatical gender, so you learn the gender of each word as you learn the word itself.
7. Wine and dine
We all have to eat, and most of us enjoy doing it. Since food is an important element in all cultures around the world, it can be an excellent bridge to help you learn a foreign language.
Start with a cookbook
Find a book that will instruct you how to prepare the cuisine of the country or culture where your target language is spoken. Even if the cookbook’s in English, cooking some dishes will help you better understand the daily life and culture of the people who speak the language you want to learn.
For more language practice, look up recipes and cooking shows online.
Following a recipe in a foreign language gives new meaning to the cooking and eating experience and can help you develop the vocabulary you need to talk about important dishes in your target language.
Another option is to find a restaurant that serves the cuisine of the people who speak your target language. Practice your pronunciation when you place your order, and engage the owners and waitstaff in friendly conversation. Ask for recommendations and learn what dishes are most popular in the country they come from. If you get particularly close with the staff, you might even ask for a cooking lesson!
8. Do your errands
You have to buy groceries, drop off your dry cleaning and grab a double mocha frappuccino (okay, maybe that last one’ optional). Why not get some language practice in at the same time?
Seek out a local immigrant community that speaks your target language and find the shops they use. You may be able to find an ethnic food market, convenience store, laundromat, dry cleaner, coffee shop, bakery and more. Doing your errands at these places can open more opportunities to practice your language skills with the owners and the other customers. It can also be a way to meet new friends and conversation partners.
9. Volunteer in your target language
Volunteering helps others, but it can also help you.
Better your community. Look for ways to get involved in organizations that work with people in your community who speak your target language. Schools, nonprofits, libraries, places of worship and medical clinics might need your help. Refugee resettlement agencies may also be looking for help introducing new refugees to your city.
There are a wide range of things you might do in a volunteer position. You might lend a hand by watching kids while their parents take ESL classes, helping translate basic information, serving as an English conversation partner or driving people to medical appointments.
Even if a position requires work to be done in English, you may meet a lot of people who speak your target language and can open new doors for you.
10. Make your job work for you
Most of your time is probably spent doing your “day job,” so this is an ideal place to look for additional opportunities to study the language you want to learn.
To arrive to work in a language learning mindset, start practicing during your morning commute by playing music or listening to the news in your target language.
If you’re in search of a job, consider opportunities at restaurants, companies or shops where your target language is spoken. If you’re lucky enough to already have a job where the language is spoken, never miss an opportunity to practice with your colleagues.
You can also improve your language skills by doing job-related research in your target language. When you need to look up information, try a search in your target language and see if you can understand some of the articles.
If your company offers funds for professional development, jump at the chance to apply for money to help you take a course or pay for a private tutor.
11. Record your thoughts
Write your way to a happier life and practice your language skills by journaling in your target language.
You can write short stories, record your impressions from the day or simply keep track of your language learning progress. The possibility are endless.
12. Have fun!
The best way to keep learning is to make it fun.
Find ways to do your hobbies while learning your target language. Do you like to read? See if your library has books and magazines in your target language. Do you like to dance? Take a class that teaches dances from a country or region where your target language is spoken.
You can also look for foreign language blogs and videos related to your hobbies. Try to connect with an international audience that also enjoys doing whatever it is that you like to do.
If video games are more your style, search for smartphone apps or online games in your target language.
You might also be able to find old-fashioned board games such as Scrabble in foreign languages. If you have friends or family members who are learning the same language, this can be a fun way to practice together.
Ultimately, the best way to immerse yourself in a foreign language is to do whatever you would normally do — just in your target language. Look for opportunities online and in your community so you can truly immerse yourself without leaving your hometown.
Katherine Kostiuk is a freelance writer with professional experience in international education and English teaching. She has lived in four foreign countries and studied five different foreign languages.
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