How to Learn a Language at Home: 9 Fun and Practical Activities
It might be hard to think of home as a place for productivity.
But if people can earn a serious living by working from home or create a business out of thin air from home, don’t you think you can easily learn a new language there, too?
Plus, you’ll never even have to change out of your pajamas.
Find out why learning a language at home is so much easier than you think.
- Why Learning Languages at Home Is Much Easier
- The Keys to Learning Languages at Home
- How to Learn a Language at Home: 9 Fun and Practical Activities
- 1. Family Games with a Twist
- 2. Cooking and Eating Your Way to Fluency
- 3. Entertain Yourself with Authentic Content
- 4. Foreign Language Bedtime Stories
- 5. Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner!
- 6. Wall of Knowledge
- 7. Multitasking in Your Target Language
- 8. Teaching Sparky a New Tongue
- 9. Word-of-the-day Lottery
Why Learning Languages at Home Is Much Easier
It’s cheap (if not free!)
“Language courses are so expensive,” said the guy from the 1940s.
Today, information is transmitted at the speed of light and at the price of air. Information has been so democratized that you won’t even need to waste 2 whole minutes Googling about free language courses on the internet. Yeah, you may still find it hard to believe, but there are a million ways to learn French, German, Spanish, Italian and more for free online. Not to mention educational websites are doing it with huge smiles on their faces.
You can find free books, e-books, podcasts, videos—all related to the language that you most badly want to learn. And guess what, you can access all of it at home with the click of a mouse or a tap of the touchscreen. So I suggest you find a better excuse than, “it’s too expensive,” because that’s not gonna fly in this day and age.
No commute necessary
Another great thing about learning language at home is that you don’t have to wake to the irritating sound of your alarm clock, hurry your breakfast and rush out the door, only to join thousands of others stuck in bumper-to-bumper traffic.
By learning at home, you’re eliminating the commute. You’re not only saving time and money, you’re also saving yourself the headache caused by that guy who cut you off. Why learn after 2 hours of commute when you can learn right now, from the comfort of your couch?
You already have all the tools you need
I’ve already mentioned your computer and your phone. Just these two can make a multilingual out of you, but let’s have a good look around your room. I see your pens, your paper and scissors. Your headphones, your cooking utensils, your cable TV. The books on your shelf, the songs in your playlist.
Think about this for a moment. Everything that you’ll ever need to learn Spanish, German, French, or Mandarin Chinese already exists inside your home. Tons of materials in your home can be easily reappropriated for your language learning purposes. Later, we’ll find out exactly how.
The internet brings the world to your desktop
To achieve full language immersion, you used to need to buy a plane ticket, pack your bags and go live in a country where they speak your language of interest. Then the pace of globalization quickened, bringing all diverse nationalities and languages to virtually every country. Culture and language is constantly being shared online, and you can be a part of this.
Today, you can welcome native speakers of any language on Earth to your living room while you’re having breakfast. You never have to step outside to be immersed in your language of choice. The world is in your home.
Are you feeling it now?
Are you starting to understand how easy home-based learning is?
Are you getting to the point where you know you can do this?
Good! Then before we get started with our at-home language learning activities, I’m going to give you a few tips to make this process even easier.
The Keys to Learning Languages at Home
Incorporate learning in everything you do
Notice that you naturally involve your first language in everything you do. You watch TV and you’ve got language filling your ears. Open the fridge and you’ll find yourself reading ingredients and expiration dates. The pizza guy comes and you say, “thanks!” The phone rings and…well, you get what I mean.
You’re incorporating language in everything you do at home. Language is an integral part of your life. So guess what you’ll need to do to acquire your target language? C’mon, guess!
You’re gonna have to swap out your native language for your target language, as much a you possibly can.
Change the language settings of your phone and other gadgets into French (or whatever your target language may be). It’ll definitely be weird at first, but you’ll get the hang of it soon enough.
You can place sticky notes on the objects you use every day and label them with their French names. So now, your cup will be labeled with the French “tasse.”
You can even get a fun, color-coded Vocabulary Stickers set, which gives you over a hundred of the most common words in French (or whatever your target language is) for items you’ll find in your home and office.
Rather than watching the same old programs, you can frequent the French channels on cable or pick out some great French movies with accompanying subtitles.
Make your second language a part of your daily existence and, one day in the near future, you’re gonna find yourself thinking in that language.
Embrace the weirdness factor
Admittedly, learning languages at home, on your own, can feel a bit weird sometimes. Imagine having the objects at your house covered with yellow Post-Its as you open the door for some relatives who are going to stay for the weekend. Can you imagine how weird that’s going to look?
Nevertheless, you’re going to have to go through all these things.
But here’s the most important thing to remember: it’ll all be worth it! When you get to that tipping point where you can converse easily with a native speaker, you can leave behind those bedroom walls covered in foreign scribblings (aka your “cheat sheet”), but never forget all that wonderful weirdness you started with!
Fun is a must (and here’s why)
Brain studies have shown that learning is facilitated by performing fun activities. The brain pays more attention to the lesson when it’s delivered in a novel and engaging way. In short, it’s memorable. Because of this, the lesson is saved in the long-term memory and is ready to be accessed at any moment. That’s when we can say that some effective learning actually happened.
Now, the word fun is a broad concept. Fun can mean funny and hilarious. Fun can also mean engaging and challenging. Fun can even mean cute—as used in this article.
In addition, fun can mean many different things for different people. Like, watching dogs can be fun, but not all cat-lovers would agree. In the end, only you can decide what’s fun for you.
Pick and choose from the following nine activities. Whichever ones seem most fun and effective, those are the activities you’ve got to try at home!
How to Learn a Language at Home: 9 Fun and Practical Activities
How can you learn a language and have fun doing it? Here are nine awesome and fun ways!
1. Family Games with a Twist
If having fun makes for efficient learning, then playing games is a very important language learning tool.
Truth is, there’s an infinite number of games one can play, limited only by your imagination. Let’s look at one game in particular—charades, with a twist.
Let’s say you want to learn French. How are you going to incorporate that in this game?
Simple. Do French charades! (Keep in mind, you’re going to need a few friends for this one.)
To play French charades, make a list of 20 common French verbs. Be sure to include key words like danser (dance), nager (swim) and sauter (jump). Write each of them on a small sheet of paper and have people draw from a hat or fish bowl. If you’ve got enough participants, you can play this with two teams.
One team member draws from the bowl and acts out the word. The other member has 30 seconds to guess the verb. When time expires and the team member fails to give the correct answer, the other team can steal and give one guess. Only one guess is allowed. If the other team guesses correctly, they get the point. Then the other team proceeds to take their turn drawing from the bowl and acting.
This game is particularly effective if you’re a kinesthetic and visual learner who remember words better with movement and pictures—that is, you can recall sauter better when you see your partner jumping or feel your own legs springing for a jump.
2. Cooking and Eating Your Way to Fluency
Who knew making your own meals could have healthy linguistic consequences?
Getting busy in the kitchen can teach you vocabulary. A big part of cultural identity is food and its preparation. If you open your mind to this, you’ll get to taste language in its most flavorful form. But where will the language lessons come from?
- Cookbooks. Read recipes online or get a cookbook in print. There, you’ll meet food-related Italian words like pesce (fish), manzo (beef), pollo (chicken), al dente (the correct degree to which pasta should be cooked) and antipasto (appetizer).
- Food labels. On labels you might learn the French words arôme (flavoring), eau (water), sel (salt) and oeuf (egg).
- Menus. These provide Japanese words like yaki (grilled), tori (chicken) and yakitori (grilled chicken)
Who knew? Going to the kitchen and taking a break from your language lessons can be a language lesson in and of itself!
3. Entertain Yourself with Authentic Content
You don’t need to stick to learner content to learn a new language. Instead, why not watch the media you already love… but in your target language! Put on a hit Mexican show with Spanish subtitles, listen to a Russian pop song… and get immersed in the language and culture in one fell swoop.
If that seems intimidating, remember that you don’t have to do it alone. Use subtitles if you need them, look up lyrics (and their translations), find online communities discussing the media and anything else you need in order to learn with real-world media.
Programs like FluentU are built to help you learn through immersion. FluentU combines authentic videos with learning features like dual-language subtitles, quizzes and flashcards to help you tackle videos in your target language. You can watch news clips, key moments from documentaries, cooking shows highlights, trailers for popular movies and other media content made by and for native speakers of your target language.
Remember: Having fun while you study is a great way to maintain motivation.
4. Foreign Language Bedtime Stories
When you were a kid, you probably went through dozens of children’s books. From Goldilocks to Little Red Riding Hood, you stared at the colorful pictures for hours almost ignoring that there were lines of text on the page.
You’re going to do that again, but this time using foreign language children’s books. You’re going to read and savor every word as if they belonged to the original 10 Commandments written in tablets of stone.
You’ll still look at the colorful pictures, but the real purpose here is to absorb sentence structure. Children’s books are written with basic sentence structure that all second language learners would do well to spend time with.
There’s no shame in an adult tucking himself or herself in with a foreign language bedtime story. Hey, nobody’s looking!
5. Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner!
You may be home alone, but that doesn’t mean that you have to slug it out solo.
Open your house to friends and acquaintances who speak your target language. If you don’t have any, go to language clubs and cultural organizations to make new friends who fit the bill. Invite them for dinner or a coffee. You’ll learn much more from a native speaker than anywhere else.
Native speakers can give you insights into the language and culture you’re interested in. They have firsthand experience. They know the do’s and don’t’s. They know what it’s like to be on the other side of the fence, too.
Don’t be surprised if you’re getting more than a language lesson over dinner. You’ll get to hear great stories from their home country, little-known facts about their culture and tips on linguistic nuances that only come from knowing the language in the real world.
6. Wall of Knowledge
This one is a vocabulary builder in the guise of a scrapbook-on-a-wall.
Are your walls bare? Are they showing the same boring pictures for the last decade? Why don’t you make them useful by turning them into a giant scrapbook or language cheat sheet?
Be creative. Get your pens, scissors, glue, tape, paints and magazine pictures ready. You’re about to make a beautiful mess out of this space.
Place pictures of the vocabulary words that you want to remember. Write grammatical rules on your wall. Go ahead, don’t be shy. For Spanish, you might write, “El is masculine. La is feminine.”
Place a picture of your favorite Spanish actress. And below it write a list of adjectives that describes her: bella dama (beautiful lady), buena actriz (good actress), de buen corazon (kind-hearted).
You get the idea? Do everything you can so that your days will be spent staring at a creatively-used wall. This will keep the language in the forefront of your mind, whether you like it or not!
7. Multitasking in Your Target Language
You’re gonna be doing other things at home, right? You could be doing aerobics exercises or cleaning your car. Why don’t you incorporate language into these affairs?
- Exercise body and brain. You could be doing you usual aerobics in Italian, for example. Get some Italian aerobics tapes or find videos on YouTube. Instead of counting “one, two, three,” you’ll be puffing “uno, due, tre.“ Instead of moving left and right, you’d go sinistra and destra. The added advantage of this is that, because you’re using new words in a specific context, you’ll find the words easier to remember.
- Keep your target language in the background. While cleaning your car or cooking, listen to language lessons or podcasts. This way, you’re hitting two birds with one stone. If you could listen to lessons that talks about what you’re doing at the present (like cooking), then so much the better.
Multitasking and incorporating your target language frees you from the excuse of being “too busy” for a second language.
8. Teaching Sparky a New Tongue
Yep, you read that one right. You may have taught your best friend a few dog tricks already, but when it comes to learning a new language he has one more trick to show you. Let me explain.
Do you remember how many times you had to repeat command words when you first taught Sparky to do things like fetch or roll over? It took many repetitions before he even noticed that you wanted him to do something.
At first he just looked at you cluelessly. Then at the 10th or the 15th time you mentioned the word “fetch,” he noticed that you had the habit of throwing the ball. Then on the 20th or 30th time, he observed that you wanted the ball back. Then around the 35th time, he started playing the game and began fetching the ball. Guess how many times you had to say “fetch.”
A lot! If you connect this with Psychology studies that point to repetition as one of the main accelerators of learning, you’ll start to appreciate shouting “fetch” to Sparky in a foreign language.
So for example, you can repeatedly tell him “habla” (“speak” in Spanish). Dogs learn commands in other languages very quickly, and he’ll be speaking Spanish too before you know it. Cool, huh?
9. Word-of-the-day Lottery
This one will ensure that you learn a new word every day.
Let’s say you want to learn German. Track down a handful of new German words you’d like to learn. Write one word per piece of paper, including its translation, pronunciation, part of speech and sample use in a sentence—basically, a dictionary entry.
Pick common nouns, verbs, adjectives and prepositions that you need to know. Your pool might contain: stehen (stand), laut (loud), bekloppt (crazy) and auf (on). Keep these little papers in a bowl near your bed.
Every morning when you wake up, pick from the set. That lucky word will be the one you’ll practice all day long. Use it in conversations with dogs, Facebook chats and comments, in your journal, etc. Use it 15 times at least!
This repetition will store the word in your long term memory. For more effective results, incorporate past words-of-the-day in your activities so you can keep everything fresh in your mind.
Before long, you’ll find yourself holding a formidable vocabulary list in your brain!
So…am I right or am I right?
Learning a language at home is not only possible, it’s fun and easy!