12 Wicked Fun Ways to Learn Any Language
Looking for minimum stress and maximum fun?
Too many “fun” ways to learn are just typical study tactics in disguise.
C’mon, flashcards are never going to hold a candle to video games.
It may sound strange, but you can’t learn everything by studying.
As it turns out, you may have to totally stop studying to really become fluent.
I’m dead serious.
So, blow off your work.
Procrastinate that assignment.
Put your textbooks back on the shelf.
I promise it isn’t too good to be true!
Why Learn a Language the Fun Way?
Say goodbye to making excuses
I’m the guiltiest of this. No time, no energy, no money, no resources. You don’t need any of that anymore. Don’t join the pity party, wondering “however will I learn my target language?” You won’t ever have to force yourself to stay motivated again, ’cause I know you’re always going to be down for a little fun time.
Manipulate your brain’s rewards center
With fun methods, your brain’s pleasure system is triggered constantly. It’s why we can scroll through dozens of funny cat pictures without getting bored, even though we’re doing nothing beneficial for our brain or body (except for absorbing cuteness).
Now, your brain will start to connect that positive feedback and pleasure with language learning.
Sometimes you study so much that you actually start getting worse. Has this happened to you? This is a major complaint from near-fluent learners living abroad and encountering their target language in the real world for the first time.
They get paralyzed and don’t know what the heck they should even study.
How do you study things like understanding fast-talkers, low-talkers, mumblers, obscure colloquial expressions, little-known dialects and slang that became popular last month? You can’t learn that stuff by studying in the traditional sense.
Train your brain to live using your target language
Right now, your brain knows that it should be using your target language in specific situations, like when reading a textbook, watching a subtitled movie or chatting with a conversation partner. Now it’s time to train your brain to use that target language constantly in everyday life. That’s the next big step from student to fluent speaker.
Keep language fresh and current in your mind
Language is always evolving, along with popular culture, current events and more. Cultural references are constantly embedded in people’s language.
It’s not a guilty pleasure anymore—to be fluent you need to know about modern entertainment, leisure activities and humor found in your target language’s country. Any language learner knows: It royally sucks to miss out on jokes and references.
Transform everyday activities into language learning opportunities
Don’t just wait for designated study time to roll around. Some fun learning methods are based on things you already do regularly, like cooking and browsing the internet. Other methods help you redirect spare time to fun language practice time. By using these fun activities, you’ll be able to inject a little language learning into normal, everyday activities.
How to Integrate Fun Activities into Language Learning
Pepper your daily schedule with fun
Little bits of fun language learning can fit nicely even into the busiest of schedules. Whenever you have a few minutes, like when you’re in the bathroom and browsing the internet on your phone (like I know you do), you can be practicing your target language. Let no spare moment go to waste!
Don’t burn your books just yet
You’ll still need formal learning and periods of focused study time. The idea is to incorporate more fun learning methods into your daily routine. You can certainly cut down on your more intense study sessions, but overall you’ll still need these to succeed.
Plenty of research on human motivation has shown that we’re more productive when we take lots of frequent, little breaks. Try the following patterns to structure your study time and keep your brain refreshed:
- Study for 20 minutes, take a 5-minute break.
- Study for 30 minutes, take a 10-minute break.
- Study for 50 minutes, take a 20-minute break.
During the study period, use your more formal study methods. During the break period, use one of our suggested fun language practice methods.
12 Wicked Fun Ways to Learn Any Language
The first five items on this list will get you connected online, showing you how to use the internet for some fun new ways to learn.
1. Browse Reddit
Reddit’s my go-to place for language learning.
Make an account, explore and subscribe to “subreddits” (pages that are thematically-oriented to one specific region, interest, etc.) where people speak or study your target language. For example, if you’re learning French you might want to subscribe to the subreddits reddit.com/r/learnfrench, reddit.com/r/french or reddit.com/r/france—that last one being bilingual.
There, you’ll find great articles in your target language, along with comments from users. You’ll also come across memes, gifs and fun images. Not only will you learn how other countries and cultures use these media—which is kinda fascinating all on its own—but you’ll also learn about a society’s favorite types of humor, plus ongoing jokes related to popular culture, current events and social issues.
You can also filter Reddit search results to only pull up posts in your target language.
You’ll just feel like you’re browsing away on Reddit, but you’re actively connecting with communities of language learners and native speakers.
2. Use region-specific social media
Yeah, Facebook is popular pretty much everywhere. But you may have also noticed that certain areas of the world have their own social media sites with intense regional followings. See what native speakers of your target language are using, then sign up and start chatting!
For example, WhatsApp is popular in Europe and Latin America, while Kakao Talk is what Koreans use to chat. Hi5, despite being based in the U.S., could not be more latino, while many in Spain still use Tuenti—the “Spanish Facebook.”
3. Play online video games
Computer-based games like Minecraft, World of Warcraft and Team Fortress 2 let you join group conversations and work cooperatively with others.
To get an idea of what gameplay will be like in your target language, check out the videos on Twitch. I’d recommend either searching the site by language (for example, type “German” into the site’s search bar) or by video game title—or both. Listen to how French trolls berate other players and work the word “n00b” into their sentences.
As for other popular games like Call of Duty, Grand Theft Auto and so on, Google “party up” threads for speakers of your native language. Search for this using your target language! They often look to recruit more game companions on online forums, since gaming is always more fun when you’ve got buddies to chat with.
4. Find friends online
Don’t just stop at language exchange sites. You may find it fun to use chat messengers and video conferencing to converse with native speakers, but that often involves stiff, formal conversation, awkward pauses and corrections. That adds a different level of pressure to the situation—you’ll still be in “learning” mode, trying to watch your words carefully and improve your speaking.
Want some more chill interactions? Try making friends in real life!
To get started, try Meetup. This is ideal if you’re living abroad and looking for more opportunities for casual interaction with native speakers or fellow learners. It’s also great while living in a country that doesn’t speak your target language—simply search for conversation nights and cultural activities related to the language, and you’ll be sure to find some like-minded peeps to hang out with.
5. Date in your target language
Single and ready to mingle? Okay, I’m not—I got into something committed before the inglorious rise of Tinder and Grindr—but I know there are a lot of language learners out there looking to hook up. There are a few ways to go about finding matches who speak your target language.
- Set your region to a place where your target language is spoken.
- Change your application interface to your target language.
- Include your spoken languages in your profile, and attract native speakers like flies.
- For sites and apps offering this option, filter potential matches by “languages spoken.”
Want to arrange a hookup in your destination before your plane even touches down? Tinder Plus, “the next level of Tinder,” is working overtime to market to us international, jet-setting, traveling types. If you’re hoping for something a little less casual, Match has separate pages specifically for seeking partners internationally.
We’re leaving web pages for now and heading to our phones! These next two tips will show you how to use your phone for good, not evil. Your phone usually distracts you from anything and everything, but now it can help you learn while you waste your life away!
6. Set your phone interface to your target language
Easy as cake. Navigating your phone in your target language forces you to use your target language every time you pick up that mesmerizing little device. Eventually, you’ll learn all the key words you need to get to text messages, contact lists, emails and Facebook, and you’ll find that you’re swiping and tapping your device as quickly and easily as you did in your native language!
7. Use only the most entertaining apps
Skip the flashcard apps for now. Try out fun apps that aim to deliver instant gratification.
Duolingo gets you learning through cheerful, addictive games. You choose game content based onthemes (food, animals, etc.) or linguistic points (present tense, gender, etc.) and play a round of three-strikes-you’re-out. Get the answers correct to advance and earn points. You can use these points for rewards, like bonus lives and health elixirs to store for extra-challenging rounds.
FluentU has collected hundreds of real-world video clips like music videos, movie trailers, news segments, clips from Disney movies and more.
Each video is equipped with language learning tools to make it accessible to you at your level, like downloadable transcript, interactive subtitles that show definitions at a click, personalized quizzes and exercises, multimedia flashcards and more.
FluentU is available for 10 languages, including Chinese, Spanish and Japanese. You can access FluentU in your browser or download it as an app for iOS and Android devices.
Free City Maps and Walks is great for iPhone users who enjoy playing with the first-person street view on Google maps. Take walking tours of nearly 500 cities worldwide!
Look at street signs, billboards and more as you go to learn about language, culture, architecture and more.
World Lens Translator is about to blow your freaking mind. The future has officially arrived.
Simply point your smartphone camera lens at a text (or look at it with your Google Glass if you’re so lucky) and have it translated before your eyes, in real time.
*Bonus: Download your favorite smartphone and tablet games in your target language! For example, did you know that all those silly little game that you just can’t stop playing—take, for example, Plants vs. Zombies—are frequently available in Spanish, French, Japanese and many, many more languages? For some, you’ll need to do the initial download with the different language indicated. For others, you can simply change the interface language in game settings.
Finally, we’ll be eating our way to fluency in these last five ways to learn a language while having a seriously fun time.
8. Seek out recipes in their native language
Can Paula Deen really make authentic fried plantains as good as any Ecuadorian mamita? Does Martha Stewart secretly have a Korean mother who taught her how to make that “ultimate” kimchi? Um, probably not.
If you want recipes that are authentic down to every last step of preparation, you’re better off searching for them in your target language. For example, few English plantain recipes will suggest you grab a rock from outside to smash ’em down after frying. That’s one beautiful little cultural detail you miss out on if you’re not finding recipes directly from their country of origin!
9. Watch step-by-step culinary instruction videos
Step right into an authentic kitchen, and let a native speaker of your target language take you to culinary heaven. Quality, step-by-step cooking videos are absolutely everywhere on the internet. Just search for your desired recipe in your target language on YouTube!
You’ll find everything from beautifully-lit and organized walkthroughs by professional chefs to normal people filming their home food preparation. Each type of video has its own advantages. The best part about any cooking video is that it was created for you to follow carefully. That means they’re usually very detailed. The cook will speak clearly, slowly and explicitly, which is perfect for language learners.
Cook along with them, or simply binge watch these videos when you’re hungry and daydreaming about delicious food.
10. Shop in ethnic grocery stores with imported goods
As a lifelong dawdler, I love leisurely strolling through grocery store aisles and mulling over the different items. This is even more fun when wandering around an ethnic grocery shop.
Any major city is bound to have Japanese convenience stores akin to those found on the streets of Tokyo. Latin grocery stores are arguably the most cost-efficient places to stock up on bulk bags of rice and beans. Most or all of the items in these kinds of stores will have labels written in your target language. It’s a language learner’s goldmine.
Make a shopping list based on the recipe you’ve found online in your target language—and write it out in that language too, of course.
Head to Google maps and see what’s in your area!
Even if you live in a rural area, like myself, the nearest large town or small city should still offer plenty of options. Visiting one of these stores is really worth the occasional drive if you can swing it.
11. Order imported food online
If you enjoy shopping online and get a rush of excitement when an Amazon box appears on your doorstep, trying browsing online for foreign products related to your target language. What do native speakers order while they’re abroad and feeling homesick? Is there a particular product their country is famous for?
Look for products with stellar reviews that offer little tastes of local cuisine.
12. Eat out in an authentic restaurant
If you’re learning abroad, eat where the locals eat. Avoid tourist-packed restaurants like the plague—they’re usually overpriced and serve food watered down to foreign palettes anyway.
If you’re in your home country, track down where native speakers of your target language own restaurants. This will introduce you to authentic food, and often the menu will be partially or fully written in their home language. You can chit-chat with the hosts, waiters and busboys to your heart’s content, allowing you to try out your language skills and maybe even make friends.
See? I told you these were seriously awesome ways to learn a language without studying. Now go have some fun and get started today!