It sounds innocent enough.
But the staggering view from your timeline will show you it’s anything but.
And regular use will have you so addicted you’ll soon be checking it from the remotest areas where you can get service.
If you’ve been paying attention for the last few years, you know that Twitter can accomplish unimaginable things. It can change the world!
In this post, we’ll look into techniques that language learners like you can use to make the most out of the platform.
So get ready to transform those simple tweets into serious learning!
What Makes Twitter Perfect for Language Learners?
With only 140 characters a tweet, the platform was virtually made for language learners. Even when the limit was doubled to 280 characters in 2017, the average tweet length, according to CEO Jack Dorsey, remained the same.
Twitter is short and simple enough that language learners are able to study and mine tweets for language gems. Its bite-sized nature makes it very digestible. It lives right in that vocabulary sweet-spot where you have just enough context to make out what words might mean in a foreign language.
Everybody’s already there.
The language learning website you’re subscribed to is probably on Twitter. The language teachers and target-language vloggers whose YouTube videos you love probably also have Twitter accounts. They might even be dishing out unique content there. Everybody, including regular native speakers who have some very interesting things to say, is available for the “Follow.”
You’ll not run out of language material on this platform. Many people are tweeting daily. Active users are tweeting multiple times a day. What you get is authentic material that mirrors how native speakers actually use their language. Very often, how people tweet is also how they would speak in real life.
Plus, you get material that’s fresh and relevant to the news or trending topics of the day.
What began as a text-based phenomenon has exploded into a multimedia domain. Twitter isn’t just a place to post your thoughts as text. You can also post images, GIFs, podcasts and videos. You can practically link to any content from anywhere on the internet.
And if you follow the right people, your feed will be fat with multimedia goodies that are a language learner’s dream. On Twitter, you have the best of all worlds, linguistically speaking. You have the most interesting stories curated by a community of users… all in a language that you’re learning.
This makes it a great tool to use with FluentU. FluentU takes real-world videos—like movie trailers, music videos and inspiring talks—and turns them into personalized language lessons. You can easily find current stories in the news or entertainment worlds on FluentU and then go see what people are saying about those stories on Twitter—you can also follow trending topics on Twitter and search for related videos on FluentU.
Twitter should be part of a whole rich repertoire of tools that you use for learning a second language. With that being said, let’s now turn to six very powerful strategies that will make your Twitter account (or your future Twitter account) a language learning machine.
6 Twitter Strategies for the High-flying Language Learner
1) Follow the right accounts.
First of all, with the things that you’re going to do here, it would be best to have a dedicated Twitter account for the purpose of language study. It’s not optimal to have your language feed get mixed with tweets in your native language from Miley Cyrus, that football team you follow and that late night show host who posts video clips of comedy sketches.
That said, here are some of the accounts that you should follow:
- The accounts of native speakers.
Whether you’re learning Spanish, French, German, Italian or whatever, there are likely plenty of native speakers whose tweets you can learn from. This is really not a big commitment thing. You can follow a couple of accounts that you think would be interesting. If you later find out they’re not up to snuff, then you can simply unfollow and pick somebody else. You’ll probably have no shortage of native speakers who can give you an authentic taste of your target language.
- Accounts related to language learning.
Like I said, everybody is on Twitter. Well, practically everybody. So you’ll be able to easily find accounts run by known language bloggers, polyglots, teachers, tutors, language exchange sites and people who simply love learning languages. Their tweets are a goldmine of lessons and insights.
Twitter is also a great way to see the latest FluentU posts—follow us and we’ll keep you in the loop!
- Accounts related to your hobbies… but in the relevant language.
Say you’re a foodie. Well, you can still be that and have second helpings with a second language, and you can indulge your other passions with your love for languages, too. If you’re a motorcar enthusiast who also happens to be learning German, then follow relevant accounts so you’re hitting two birds with one stone.
- Humorous accounts that tweet in the target language.
Humor is a powerful language learning tool. So if you can find funny accounts in the target language, tail them like a police officer tracking a stolen car. These accounts will not only give you access to memorable quotes, wit and quips, they’ll also be regularly serving you funny videos that feature the target language in a more authentic setting.
To find any of the above for your target language, do some Google research on what you’re looking for, for example, professional comedians who speak the language you’re interested in. Any account you follow and read regularly in the language will make for good memory anchors and help you pick up the language quicker.
2) Utilize “advanced search” to its full potential.
Grab your laptop and use Twitter’s “advanced search.”
You can get there by first doing a regular search.
Click on “advanced search” and you’ll be taken to a page where you can further refine your search requirements. The most relevant filter will be “Written in,” where you can direct Twitter to search items in your target language.
If you want to search for a specific phrase or expression in the target language, you can use “This exact phrase” to look for instances it has been used by others.
3) Change the language settings.
Besides searching for tweets in the target language, another thing you can do is change the language in which you use Twitter. This means the Twitter interface will appear to you in your target language.
Again, you’ll have to use your desktop or laptop for this one.
Click on your profile pic to open a pull-down menu. Click on “Settings and privacy.” This will give you a page that allows you to change your profile preferences. In the “Account” section, choose which “Language” you want Twitter to be in.
Scroll down to “Save changes” and voilà! You’re doing Twitter in French.
4) Google the trending hashtags in the target country.
You can also use Google to find the trending hashtags in the country or countries where your target language is spoken. If you’re learning Italian, search “trending hashtags in Italy” and you’ll get results for the most recent topics that are sweeping the nation.
Curating trending hashtags by country will let you meet native speakers who are tweeting about burning issues. You’ll also undoubtedly see videos and linked articles about those issues. This strategy will easily fill your feed with more language material than you know what to do with.
5) Mine the tweets for language lessons.
So, you now have an account that regularly serves you up with tweets in the target language. What do you do?
- Read the tweets aloud.
This may come as a surprise, but you won’t pick up the language just by reading with your eyes. You need to get that mouth moving and that tongue wagging. Read the tweets aloud, over and over. The advantage of reading tweets out loud over other written material is that tweets often sound more authentic. Native speakers often tweet the way they speak, so what you’re able to practice may closely resemble spoken language.
- Figure out what the tweets mean.
This is fun. You’re staring at something that’s foreign to you, so how do you figure out what the words mean? A little sleuthing will be required on your part, but it will explode your vocabulary.
Copy the tweet and ask Google to translate it for you. Or, make it even more fun by doing it in parts. It’s best to get a few choice words translated and try to guess the meaning of the whole tweet. This develops your context reading skills, which is very important in learning a language.
Use emojis to help you suss out a tweet’s meaning. If a video comes with a text intro, watch the video first and use it to figure out what the tweet says. Language learning becomes fun when you’re able to make a simple game out of it.
Don’t worry about getting the most accurate translations. The important thing here is that you’re working with the language and becoming more and more familiar with it.
- Study grammar and sentence construction.
Tweets can be a good way of learning not just vocab, but grammar. Grammatical rules and structures can be gleaned from how sentences are formed. Because of the inherent limits in length, you’ll often see simple sentences in tweets that are easily digestible.
However, because of the inherent limits, people have also developed lots of ways to pack information into little packages. So even if sentences are short, they’re still often fat with content and meaning.
On Twitter, you have the chance to see complex sentences, compound sentences, nested clauses, etc. Watch for complex elements in those tweets that get close to the 280 character limit.
If a thought or sentiment is spread over several tweets, then chances are, it will contain some more complicated thoughts and sentences. Twitter threads are perfect material for intermediate and advanced language learners.
Studying tweets can be a good way of looking into how words relate to and support each other. The vocab “sticks” in your memory because it doesn’t exist in a vacuum, but as part of a meaningful tweet.
- Follow dialogues, conversations and discussions.
Sometimes, tweets go viral or become controversial. These get not only retweeted but also replied to. Emotional conversations, fat with context, can be like candy to a language learner. If you can learn from a single tweet, imagine how much you’ll learn from a series of tweets where there’s a healthy back-and-forth volley of words between people who are incapable of backing down.
As you figure out what each tweet and counter-tweet means, it will feel like you’re piecing together an unfolding story.
You’ll get emotionally charged dialogues when you click on or search for trending hashtags. Politics and religion are two examples of hot topics that can encourage these animated discussions. (Hey, it’s also a good way to learn some slang!) Just be aware that since there’s all kinds of content and interactions on Twitter, you may want to adjust your settings to control what you see and who’s able to interact with you personally.
6) Tweet in the target language regularly.
The only thought that can stop you from doing this is “What if I get the tweet wrong? Then everyone will laugh at me!”
Hardly. Native speakers will barely care about your grammar, they’ll likely assume you’re a native speaker like them. They’ll be more interested in what you have to say and respond to that. Besides, if you’re using a dedicated account for second language learning, you can give yourself some degree of anonymity, if that helps.
To use Twitter for language learning, commit to tweeting at least three times a day.
You don’t have to write long and complicated tweets. Start with simple expressions. If you find a video funny, share it and say the equivalent of “This is funny!” in your target language.
Ask a question if you want. Say “Agree!” if you do. Start a friendly conversation. Support someone. Get in there. Your tweets need not be perfect, you just have to tweet. That’s it.
It’s all about you working with the language—composing your tweet, checking translators and looking for synonyms—that’s what develops your skills and hones your insights.
So, what are you waiting for?!
Create that new account and start taking advantage of Twitter for language learning.
It really is a powerful tool that can bring you closer to your language goals.
If you liked this post, something tells me that you'll love FluentU, the best way to learn languages with real-world videos.