Learning a language is a fun and exciting experience, but it can also be riddled with frustration and doubt. Since most of us are finding ourselves with extra time on our hands, I thought I would share my language learning journey. When I realized how much time I would be spending at home when the pandemic started, I decided I would use some of my extra time studying Italian. If you have recently started learning a language, I hope this post can help you find ways to better the new language and have the most success.
Take classes at university or a cultural institute. Even better if you can afford private tutoring. Having a structured learning setting when you first start learning a language is so important, and it will provide the base for how well you know the language. When you’re in a class, you also get insight from the teacher (usually a native speaker) and will learn all the small grammar details that can be confusing to learn on your own.
Moving abroad was the best thing I did for learning a language. Whether this means studying abroad or doing a cultural exchange such as au pairing, this full immersion is the best way to learn. When you’re surrounded by a language and its native speaker, you learn so much more than you can even imagine! Plus, you will learn slang terms and maybe even some local dialect. Much more than you would ever learn in a textbook, when the language becomes a part of your everyday experience.
Listening to music in your target language is such an easy way to be immersed in the language. Podcasts are great too! Even if it’s above your comprehension, you will absorb what you’re listening to and later on understand. There are songs I’ve been listening to for years, but only recently can fully understand what the message is. Either way, you will hear how certain words are pronounced and catch phrases you’re familiar with.
Follow people on Instagram who speak your target language. This is a great double hit because it allows you to practice both reading and listening. If there’s a post that comes up in your target language, try to comprehend it before simply pressing the translate button. I also really love watching Instagram stories in Italian, because I can see how much I understand. It gives great insight into what the culture is really like, too, when you follow someone on social.
There are so many free resources out there! Watch YouTube videos in your target language. Back when I could go to the gym, I would watch while walking on the treadmill. You can also watch movies and shows in your target language. I’ve watched the same show and the same movie over and over on Netflix and each time I catch something new. This is one of my favorite ways of learning a language, because it feels real and it gives a glimpse into society in another country.
This can be done in person or over video. If you are living abroad, there are typically Facebook groups where you can find partners. I’ve even made great friends doing this! It can be really nerve-wracking, but just remember that you’re there to help each other. Don’t be embarrassed to show what you know or ask questions to your language partner.
My favorite app is called Tandem. It allows you to chat with people around the world in your target language. You can create a profile and start conversations with whoever looks interesting! I’ve also made friends through this app, and we’re now connected on Instagram or WhatsApp. Since I mainly chat with people in Italy, I’m also learning even more about the culture and life there. HelloTalk is another app with a similar objective. I also have some apps where I can learn vocabulary and take quizzes. Just don’t try to learn a language with Duolingo, you won’t get anywhere!
Read out loud, even if you don’t understand what you’re reading. I bought a secondhand Italian book that I’ve been making my way through. When I was in Italy in the fall, I would buy a magazine at the train station and work through the articles inside. It helps to learn new vocabulary and you’ll feel really good when you start understanding more and more. You can even start by reading children’s books, then work your way up as you learn more. I also found a book that is for intermediate learners, and it has questions after each chapter so you can check how much you understood.
Setting a study goal is a great idea because it will keep you focused, especially if you’re just learning on your own and not with a class. For me this is reading out loud before I go to bed, or working out of my vocabulary book once a week. Since there’s not much else happening right now, I also like to have one “Italian night” where I work on learning something new. It’s always fun to escape into another language for the evening, and is something different than just watching a show or reading at night.
Find an organization near you dedicated to your target language/culture. I go to events by the Italian Cultural Institute and come out of them feeling so energized and ready to recommit to my studies. The event I look forward to all year is the film festival, and often I see my Italian professors there! I’ve also gone to an art lecture by an award-winning art historian, and during quarantine I’ve watched many Zoom presentations on subjects relating to Italy.
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