How to Practise a Foreign Language (For Free)!
There are many reasons why people decide to learn a new language. Whatever your reason may be, you’ve already taken the leap. You’ve spent some time on your own or with a friend, at a class or with a tutor. You learned some grammar and vocabulary and with a little work you can even carry on a simple conversation. Now you need to practise the target language (TL) everyday to be able to maintain it and become an effective communicator.
Obviously one of the most fun and most effective ways to practise the language you’re learning is to travel to the country where your TL is spoken natively. But international (and even domestic) travel is just not feasible for all of us. You may not have the cash on hand, you may have kids, a sick family member, an illness yourself or a job you cannot leave. There are many ways to practise the language you’re learning for free at home.
Disclaimer: There are many languages that are extremely valuable that some or all these tips cannot be applied to. For example many of the tips below cannot be used to practise any of the sign languages (ASL, FSL, BSL etc).
Many of these hints also work best if the language you’re learning is one that is relatively common in the world. Tribal, remote and dead languages like Quechua, Gaelic or Latin are going to be a little more tough to practise simply because they are not as common. Which is not to say that there aren’t a ton of great reasons to learn them.
Tip # 1
By now you should know many vocabulary words in your TL. So put those nouns to work! Surround yourself with them so that they become familiar to you. Do you have labels in your office? Make new labels in your TL. Use a calendar in your TL and if possible set your phone and computer to your TL as well so that you’re using the words in a familiar setting every day.
Tip # 2
Set your internet homepage to a web news site in your TL. Browse the headlines and see what words you can pick up. If you’re at a level where you can read the stories, even if it’s with the constant help of a translation dictionary(bound or online), try to read at least one story every day.
Note: if you’re using an online dictionary for translation make sure that the site is accurate by checking up on it’s reputation or asking a native speaker for their opinion. Also, avoid translation sites and software altogether. They are not a useful tool for learning or practising a language as the translations are not sensitive to idioms, grammar, culture, tone or tense.
Tip # 3
If you know anyone else who speaks your TL try to practise with them 1-4 times a month at least. In fact, try to squeeze in as much practise time as you can manage. Your conversation buddy doesn’t have to be a native speaker, but try to find someone who either matches or surpasses your profiency level so that you’re not constantly instructing. If you don’t already know anyone else who speaks or is learning your TL try checking out www.meetup.com to find a group of TL speakers in your area.
Tip # 4
Need to make a list? The simple task of making a shopping, gift or to do list can be a great tool to practise your TL. Anytime you need to jot down a note to yourself (or someone else who knows your TL) do it in the TL as well.
Tip # 5
When you’re shopping say the words of the items your buying out loud. For example if your TL was French you could say “Trois pommes. Un, deux, trois pommes” (Three apples. One, two, three apples). You can do this with prices as well. When you’re at the gym say out loud the words your using or what your doing. “I’m going to get a towel and dry my hair (in TL)”. You can do it at home too, “I have to make the bed before I go to work” etc. Try talking to your pets in your TL as well.
Tip # 6
Of course, if talking to yourself in your TL all day makes you feel like you’re losing it start a running inner dialogue and try to keep it as much in your TL as possible. This activity is great for two reasons. The obvious one is that you’re constantly applying your new vocabulary to things you do in your everyday life and getting familiar with words you would often use. But you are also training yourself to think in your TL. This will come in handy when you are reading or speaking in your TL as it will cut down (and eventually erase completely) on the need to translate in your head from your TL into English. This is one of the keys to becoming fluent in a new language.
Tip # 7
Try to learn a new word everyday. If you don’t already have a bilingual dictionary for your TL, you should definitely get one. Odds are you’ll find yourself using it all the time. Flip through it and find a new word every day. Say the word out loud. If it’s a verb, learn it’s conjugations by looking them up online. Write out a few sentences with that word, and read them out loud. Try to use the new word in your TL internal dialogue for the rest of the day.
Tip # 8
Watch movies with your TL. If you watch a movie you’re already familiar with it will be easier to follow and you won’t run the risk of getting lost and frustrated (Later when you’ve become more proficient with your TL watching new movies with it will be a great activity).
I say watch a movie with your TL not in your TL because there are a few different ways you can integrate your TL into the movie. You can watch the movie dubbed (voiced over) in your TL. Or you can watch it with TL subtitles and either English or TL voiceovers. If you’re watching it with subtitles read them out loud as you go. This will allow you to practise speaking at a normal speed.
Tip # 9
Learn a new idiom every week. Idioms are different for every language and learning them is an important part of learning how to communicate effectively in your TL. Idioms can be hard to remember and there aren’t always a lot of opportunities to employ them. That’s why I suggest learning one every week instead of one every day. Try to use your new idiom at least once a day for the rest of the week. In this way it will become embedded in your mind.
Tip # 10
Language tests, grammar work sheets and vocabulary lists can be found for free online in almost every language you could learn. A Google search will likely turn up at least a few to try out.
Tip # 11
Listen to news and music in your TL. Read books and newspapers, even if you need to check the dictionary every second or third word. At any available opportunity change your operating language from English to your TL. This will not only allow you to practise your TL but will also introduce you to the culture associated with it.
When learning a foreign language it is vitally important that you are familiar with the culture associated with it. Culture is reflected in the languages we speak. There are synonyms in English that need to be explained to confused ESL students because they are cultural significant, not linguistically so. This is the case for every language and it is something that is very important to keep in mind when practising your TL.
Learning a new language is challenging, but practicing and maintaining it doesn’t have to be. Nor does it have to be incredibly expensive. Follow these eleven free tips for practising your new language and you’ll be speaking it for years to come. Remember to practise every day and surround yourself in the language. Complete immersion is the easiest way to learn a language. When that is not possible simulating immersion to the best of your ability is the next best thing!
Good luck, and get practising!
Thanks for reading!