Imagine this: outdoors, sunshine, cup of coffee and a magazine.
That could be your new study routine.
I love magazines.
There’s nothing I enjoy more than relaxing with a crisp new magazine in my lap (or on my Nook!).
In fact, it was through reading magazines that I was able to learn French.
That’s how I discovered that magazines are a great way to learn languages!
Scroll down, and I’ll share with you how I used magazines as a powerful tool to improve my language skills—and how you can too!
How Foreign Language Magazines Can Be Your Key to Learning
There are tons of different language learning resources out there for modern learners, so why are magazines so special? Let’s take a look at what makes magazines uniquely effective for learning languages.
Why, of All Things, Magazines?
Magazines are interesting!
Textbooks—especially foreign language textbooks—can be boring or feel too formal. Magazines just are never boring or formal. They’re written for mass consumption, and magazines tend to publish only the most fascinating content. Plus, there are so many magazines out there that they cover an enormous variety of subjects. And because they’re written in a style to appeal to a mass audience, you’ll often find that the content is easy to digest.
Images help you learn.
This isn’t my opinion, but rather a fact. Remember when you were a child and loved children’s books—those wonderful, colorful books with brilliant covers and thick pages filled with beautiful artwork? Well, magazines are just the adult versions of children’s books. They’re filled with images: photos, artwork, graphs, charts, you name it!
Science actually shows this is true. Children learn language through images. This can work just as well for adult langauge learners, and what better place to find images than a colorful magazine?
You’ll often find that you can understand the gist of an article just by looking at the images. My tip: Focus on the images and their captions, and try to piece together what they mean without touching your dictionary.
Magazine content will teach you about culture.
If you’re like most people, you’re not just learning a language ’cause you have a fascination with grammar. You’re probably interested in the cultures and societies connected to that language. Perhaps you dream of ordering bread at an authentic French boulangerie, or maybe you want to what they’re really saying in your favorite Japanese anime show (we all know the subtitles aren’t telling the whole truth!).
Magazines allow you to learn language and culture at the same time. Digest some knowledge about French gastronomie while reading cooking magazines, or devour manga to improve your Japanese. There’s a multitude of ways that you can discover more about culture through magazines!
How Any Language Learner Can Use ‘Em
Now, I know what you’re about to ask me. “I don’t speak the language I’m learning that well. How can I pick up a magazine now and be able to read it?”
It’s a common misconception that you need to be experienced in a language to read it well. You have to remember that magazines are a tool for communication, and that each magazine is targeted to a different audience. The key is finding the right magazine at the right level for you.
Start at your level
This is true in English as well as a foreign language. For example, I’m not going to pick up an issue of Rocket Science Today, because it’s way above my level. Similarly, don’t get an overly complicated or difficult magazine in the language you’re trying to learn.
If you’re a complete beginner, why not start with children’s magazines? They use simple language and often includes copious amounts of pictures—and who doesn’t understand pictures? In fact, as I’ll explain futher, images are one reason that magazines are such a fantastic resource for language learning.
If you’re studying a particular topic in school, focus on that topic for perfect learning synergy. For example, if you’re studying economics and love the course content, then why not try to read an economics magazine? You may find that a lot of the material in there is quite similar to what you’re learning in your classes. This will give you an “in” to learning the language! This applies equally to professionals—choose a magazine related to the field you work in!
Let me tell you, you may struggle a bit at first. Learning through magazines is, sadly, a stark contrast to how we’re taught to learn languages in school. In my college classroom, each unit focused on something specific. Perhaps it was gender, then the past tenses, then prepositions, one at a time, with the idea being that you needed to steadily add building blocks to understand a language.
When reading magazines, you’ll get gender, verb tenses, prepositions and dozens of things you don’t understand all at once. Don’t let that scare you. Re-read articles and try to learn enough to get the meaning. Focus on what you do understand and try to improve piece-by-piece.
Keep a notebook
A great way to aid your steady improvement in comprehension is to keep a notebook. It can be a physical notebook or an app on your smartphone, it doesn’t really matter. Whenever you come across a word that you don’t understand, write it down and look it up.
Organize, organize, organize
The notebook strategy ties into another critically important factor: staying organized!
This means setting realistic goals, reading some of the magazine every day and creating a system where, when an article is too difficult, you file it away and come back to it later, when, hopefully, your language skills have improved and you can better understand it. I bet you’ll be surprised to see how much your comprehension has grown!
Create manila folders of magazine cut-outs (if you’re using print magazines) or a electronic filing system (for e-mags). Note a date on each magazine piece that you want to return to in the near future, giving yourself a week, month or multiple months to improve before returning to that piece.
Increasing your exposure
Organization leads us to the most important point: To learn a language, you need to be exposed to it every day. Magazines can be a great way to finally make learning a language a part of your daily life. Make a plan and stick to it so that you can get the most out of magazines.
Electronic vs. Hard-Copy Magazines?
Much like the Kindle vs. Print debate, this one has no simple answer. Here’s my handy list of pros and cons to help you decide which tool is best for you. I’ll also provide you with some recommendations for how to track down magazines in each format.
- Tons of free magazines out there (see below for my top resources) in a wide variety of languages.
- Don’t take up much space. You can fit more than you could possibly ever read on a single USB drive.
- Can work on multiple devices: PC, Mac, iPhone, Blackberry, Kindle, Kobo, Nook, you name it!
- Your eyes can get tired of staring at a computer screen.
- E-book readers, such as Kindles or Nooks, are easier on the eyes but can have difficulty rendering certain files properly.
- Virtual highlighting tools aren’t as good as an actual highlighter, and oftentimes you can’t chop down magazines files into individual articles.
- Quantity can be a curse—you’ll have to filter through the mediocre content to find a magazine you truly like.
Issuu: Issuu is a website where people from all around the world upload magazines, articles and other digital content. The best part? Most of this is free! Click on the link here to explore their vast database of free digital content which you can then read on your PC, Mac or portable device.
Scribd: Similar to Issuu, though with a greater focus on technical content. Check Scribd out if you’re looking for something more niche or specific. Scribd is especially good for Spanish language magazines as it’s very popular in Latin America.
- Time-tested format. No batteries needed, never loses charge and is portable.
- Malleable. You can take a pen, highlighter or scissors to turn that magazine into a learning tool from your own imagination.
- You can easily make a filing system using manila folders to keep track of articles you understood, found difficult or want to get back to.
- Can be tough to find magazines in less common languages, especially if you don’t live in a big city or have access to a quality university library.
- Purchasing them can be expensive over time.
- Can become bulky. We’ve all seen hoarders with boxes of magazines.
Bookstores: Despite what you may have heard in the media, bookstores still exist and many carry a large selection of magazines. You may want to see if there’s a bookstore for the language you want to learn in your city. In fact, most cities have specialty stores that cater to minority communities and they often carry magazines.
Libraries: What better place to learn a language than your local library? Most have an extensive magazine selection in multiple languages, and you can check out copies for free! Some even allow you to make photocopies of particular articles.
If you happen to live near a quality university, take advantage by exploring their library’s selection (most universities let members of the public browse freely, and a few even let you check out materials). They often have materials in more languages than public libraries and offer more extensive titles.
In the end, I recommend choosing what works best with your lifestyle. If you prefer reading from your Nook, then go digital. If you like the feel of glossy paper, then go with print.
You could always strike a compromise, downloading electronic copies and then printing them out.
Whatever you want to do, magazines are flexible enough to meet your needs and preferences!
And One More Thing…
If you’re digging these strategies, you’ll love using FluentU. FluentU makes it possible to learn languages from music videos, commercials, news and inspiring talks.
With FluentU, you learn real languages—the same way that natives speak them. FluentU has a wide variety of videos like movie trailers, funny commercials and web series, as you can see here:
FluentU has interactive captions that let you tap on any word to see an image, definition, audio and useful examples. Now native language content is within reach with interactive transcripts.
Didn’t catch something? Go back and listen again. Missed a word? Hover your mouse over the subtitles to instantly view definitions.
You can learn all the vocabulary in any video with FluentU’s “learn mode.” Swipe left or right to see more examples for the word you’re learning.
And FluentU always keeps track of vocabulary that you’re learning. It uses that vocab to give you a 100% personalized experience by recommending videos and examples.
If you liked this post, something tells me that you'll love FluentU, the best way to learn languages with real-world videos.