7 Killer Ways to Use Technology for Instant Language Learning
Imagine that you live in a world where there are no cars, iPhones, laptops, ATMs, TVs and no internet.
What would your typical day look like?
What would you do first thing in the morning? How about the rest of the day?
How would you know what’s been happening around the world? In the absence of Facebook, for example, how would you know about the statuses of your friends?
Now, imagine how learning a new language would take place in that technology-free kind of world.
First you’d walk around and look for a person who speaks the language. You’d swim across the ocean if need be. As a result, language acquisition would be horrendously slow.
The Impact of Technology on Language Learning
Now come back to our world for a minute and let’s talk about the blessings of technology. It seems to me that every time a new technology is developed, people immediately enlist it in the cause of teaching and learning a new language. After all, learning a new tongue is on many of our bucket lists, and technology can help us learn quickly.
Technology has changed the way we exchange information. From colleagues sending company data across continents at the speed of light, to learning a whole new language, technology has made its presence known in no uncertain terms.
It has democratized language transfer. Instead of getting on a plane and going where the native speakers are, don’t even leave your seat. Just visit the millions of websites that teach language courses.
And in these language learning apps and websites, they are using technologies that make the lessons come to life. They have memory games that make learning fun. Videos record the lessons and you can replay them at any time of the day and as often as like. You’re not only listening to how the native speakers sound, but you’re also doing it at your own pace. You have translation services at your fingertips, before you even need them.
At this point, there’s really no excuse in not learning a second, a third or even a fourth language. Whether you wish to join the ranks of the polyglots or not, the resources are all waiting for you.
And here are some ways to enlist today’s technology in learning the language that you’ve always had your eye on.
7 Killer Ways to Use Technology for Instant Language Learning
1. Change the Language Settings on Your Devices and Social Media Accounts
Did you notice that appliances as mundane as washing machines come with manuals that are translated in practically a dozen languages? Do you sense a language learning opportunity there?
Well, maybe not, but know that the phone you are holding in your hand can be set to display commands in a variety of languages.
You can also use social media accounts to learn any major language, like using Facebook to learn Spanish, for example. Simply change the language settings in your account. Sure, the translations aren’t perfect and you might feel awkward at first. It’s almost like learning to write with your left hand when you’re right-handed.
But by changing the language settings, you are forcing yourself to learn a different language by interacting with it. And get ready to be surprised, because over time, you’ll get so used to it that using the gadgets and navigating the sites will be a breeze.
2. Use Instant Translate to Learn Vocabulary
With one click or tap, you will know what “sleep” is when translated to French, Spanish or Japanese, for example. With translation sites and apps, you can also go the other way and untangle foreign words into English.
You can even have multiple versions of the translation so you can get a razor-sharp equivalent of a word. Here are some of the best translation and dictionary apps for some common languages:
A few years ago, translating into so many languages would have required books as thick as five iPhones stacked on top of the other. You would then search the pages for your word, singing your ABCs so you could find it. But today, all you really have to do is blink and you have every translation known to man.
3. Video Chat with a Native Speaker Any Time of the Day
Skype and Google Hangouts are free video call services that allow you to connect with anybody willing to take your call. With this technology, you are practically a click away from any native speaker. As long as he or she has a reliable internet connection, and a Skype or Google account, you can spend countless hours engaged with somebody who speaks your target language.
To find someone who speaks your target language, look online. You can use any of the social media accounts you have, or sites like italki, Craigslist, Couchsurfing or My Language Exchange. You can post your own ads, or ask around to see if anyone you know has connections with native speakers of the language you’re learning.
Here are additional resources for finding native speakers of French, German and Spanish with whom you can talk online:
For best results, find someone who’s also interested in learning your native tongue so it will be beneficial for both of you.
4. Turn Car Rides into Language Classes
A study has shown that people spend a considerable amount of time in their cars—in traffic. That’s a significant part of our lives, sitting idly and listening to music. Why don’t we put these hours to good use? Why not use this as an opportunity to learn a new language?
Instead of fuming about the jam caused by the two sleepy drivers at the intersection, why don’t you sit back and pop in your favorite language course and learn to speak Korean, Japanese or Spanish?
You could get CDs from your public library, or download free tracks from the internet. Remember that listening isn’t limited to a formal audio language course. You can try listening to podcasts and music, too!
Then if anybody asks you, “Hey Dave, where did you learn to speak Spanish?,” you can answer nonchalantly, “In my Honda Accord!”
5. YouTube Your Way to Language Acquisition
YouTube, as a repository of videos, is chockful of language learning opportunities. There’s a long list of channels maintained by people who are genuinely gifted in teaching language. As for teachers, you have an endless selection. I’m sure you can find one or two whose teaching style matches your penchant for learning.
With YouTube, you also have access to native speakers speaking their dialects in full display. A video or channel may not necessarily be about language. It may be about putting on makeup, for example. You can mine that video by listening closely to the intonation of the speaker, or the way she pronounces a certain word.
To save you from blind searching, here are our selections of the best YouTube channels to follow for these language learners:
- Chinese learners
- English learners
- French learners
- German learners | German YouTube videos
- Japanese learners
- Spanish learners
And if you really want to milk this resource, scroll down to the comments section and read what’s written. With enough contextualizing skills, you will be able to make out what is being said. The comment section is a showcase of how native speakers express their language in written form, with all the informal online expressions included.
If you want to watch videos that are vetted specifically for learners and come with helpful learning tools, you can also try a program such as FluentU.
With FluentU, you hear languages in real-world contexts—the way that native speakers actually use them. Just a quick look will give you an idea of the variety of FluentU videos on offer:
FluentU really takes the grunt work out of learning languages, leaving you with nothing but engaging, effective and efficient learning. It’s already hand-picked the best videos for you and organized them by level and topic. All you have to do is choose any video that strikes your fancy to get started!
Each word in the interactive captions comes with a definition, audio, image, example sentences and more.
Access a complete interactive transcript of every video under the Dialogue tab, and easily review words and phrases from the video under Vocab.
You can use FluentU’s unique adaptive quizzes to learn the vocabulary and phrases from the video through fun questions and exercises. Just swipe left or right to see more examples of the word you're studying.
The program even keeps track of what you’re learning and tells you exactly when it’s time for review, giving you a 100% personalized experience.
Start using the FluentU website on your computer or tablet or, better yet, download the FluentU app from the iTunes store or Google Play store.
6. Test Your Knowledge Through Technologically-enhanced Language Games
In the old days, you had flashcards to test your knowledge of vocabulary. Somebody would hold up the flashcards and then you would tell that person what the word is in German, for example. Or your partner would show a card with “one” written on it, and you’d excitedly scream, “uno!” as the answer.
Today, you have games saddled with every bell and whistle to make the learning that much more fun and interesting. They bombard you with all these colorful animations that burn the lessons in your memory, with accompanying music for correct answers and sound effects for wrong answers.
You don’t even need a partner today. Flashcard-type exercises and games now use SRS to be much more effective, and websites are equipped with thousands of questions that can test your skill in different levels. You can actually play language games the whole day without a single test question repeated.
7. Listen to Children’s Stories in Your Target Language
Today’s children are pampered by audiovisual stories that entertain them no end. The vivid characters come to life as seasoned storytellers animate the classics.
If I were you, trying to learn a language, I would sit in the same bandwagon and take advantage of the spoon feeding. Choose a story that has a visual component. That is, a story that has the text and pictures shown. If the storyteller is being shown, take note of his/her gestures. This will help you make out the things happening in the story. (If possible, make sure that you are familiar with the English version of the story.)
Because they are geared for kids, the language structure in the stories will be easy enough, and the vocabulary so basic that an adult listening to Cinderella in Spanish can mine it for language acquisition.
The Limits of Technology in Language Learning
Would you believe that with all that I’ve said about the virtues of technology, it’s not a total panacea? It’s true what they say, too much of a good thing is no good at all. We still have to look out for some unintended consequences brought about by today’s technology.
It has the tendency to make the learning passive. Everything is available, and everything is accessible in an instant. This results in the brain taking for granted what is served up to it so easily. And you don’t really value what comes too easily. For example, there’s just something about flipping the pages of a thick dual-language dictionary that makes us appreciate the word when we finally locate it on the page.
Technology also precludes human interaction. Some people just learn best when interacting with others. Solo flights in front of the computer don’t hold much appeal to them. There’s just something about having a warm body laughing your bungling of a new language.
So as it turns out, technology has its own shortcomings. You can’t lean on it too much. If you want a bountiful harvest, you need to put in the effort and the time to really do the hard work. Technology is the same. It’s there to help, but it can’t drag you from bed in the morning and sit you in front of the computer or make you take the tests seriously.
Nevertheless, when used properly, technology can absolutely skyrocket your language acquisition. Never before in human history has learning a new language been so easy, so accessible and so cheap.
There is, then, no excuse for anyone with enough motivation. So what are you waiting for? Let’s get learning!