Most language learners I work with live in a native language environment. If you’re one of those learners, you’ve probably decided to get involved in a foreign language out of love and curiosity. You may be taking weekly classes or sitting down with a self-study book every so often.
For many students, this leaves the question:
“What’s a great system for using my target language every day?”
Here are my tips for making language a part of your routine:
1. Schedule it
Repetition is powerful, and notebooks are your language learning tool #1. No matter if you are attending a class, seeing a tutor or working through a book chapter on a regular basis, make sure you schedule 3-5 short sessions every week during which you just revisit your notes.
You can structure the progress further with the following techniques:
- Do your homework – there are always exercises which focus on getting you involved in the topic you’re learning, so sit down and do them. If you don’t have a specific exercise, ask your tutor or have a little search around on the web.
- Colour code your notes the second time you see them, for example by highlighting everything that’s easy in green and the bits that you cannot remember in red. Next time, you will be efficiently revising the critical bits only.
Record your notes once a week and listen to the recording in the car or on your walk to the bus stop
The bilingual shopping list
2. Use your language in simple tasks
Simple, everyday tasks are great for learning. Household chores are for plugging in the headphone and revising with a language podcast. I often try to write my shopping list in another language – sure, the first time I looked up 9 out of 10 words in the dictionary, but next time I know I won’t!
Other ideas for smuggling the target language into simple tasks:
- Switch Siri/Google Now, Facebook or your computer operating system to the target language
- Label things with their name in the foreign language (post-its are a failsafe here).
- Switch one wekly shopping trip to an ethnic supermarket. This might not work for everyone, but even in little Lancaster we do have access to Korean, Chinese, Japanese, Polish and Russian foods – all with labels in the language!
3. Create a language board
Visualising your learning is creative, fun and proven to work. Life coaches use vision boards with their clients, schools use displays in classrooms.
Language learners should work on two boards:
- The Motivation board, where you collect what inspires you to learn a language. Train tickets from your first trip to Seoul, a letter from a pen pal, pictures of the place, recipes, flags…what can you add?
- The Study board, preferably a cork or magnetic pinboard where you write out your lessons for the week. This is where you paste big colourful verb tables, handy phrases and examples of the language in use. Filling it up in 14 days could be your new challenge.
Maybe start on a digital board maker like Pinterest, then get busy with craft materials – this is particularly fun if you have kids to entertain, too! I would recommend creating something big and present. Let it claim a space in your home by putting it up on the walls to help your brain through visualization.
4. Involve friends or family
The key to getting your loved ones involved in your new mission is to avoid putting pressure on them. You need to find ways of getting partners involved that doesn’t force them into something they may lack passion for, but at the same time – use this great resource!
- Ask a friend or partner to quiz you on vocabulary lists – this is a way to make them feel like they are helping you, without having to put in too much effort.
- Kids are great to learn with here, because you can often enthuse them for learning along with you. Simple songs, secret codewords and nicknames are playful and will keep your target language present in your mind.
- Designate set times for speaking in the target language – for example, a weekly walk with a native speaker friend or the half hour of breakfast time.
- Take your loved one on the journey with you – planning joint trips, attending the theatre or eating traditional foods together is fun, not stressful.
Luis Cardozo is a successful language instructor for executives and busy professionals, and has more than 25 years experience teaching Spanish. In 2002 he launched SpanishNYC, offering customized instruction and translation services. -- Luis has taught group and individual Spanish classes at companies such as NBC, Univision, Nickelodeon, the Miss Universe Organization, The New York Times, Bloomberg, Sprint, Citicorp, JPMorgan, Deloitte & Touche and Pfizer. -- Luis Cardozo has developed his own method for teaching Spanish; the Natural Conversational Approach (NCA). -- With my method, you hear and understand Spanish from the first moment, whatever your level is. I create a relaxed practicing environment, where learning takes place easily and pleasurably. Instruction is totally focused on your specific background, based on the idea that everyone has unique talents, interests, strengths and challenges. -- My techniques allow us to intuit your needs, keep you motivated and insure that your instruction is effective. -- You will absorb the language consciously and unconsciously, just as you did when you learned your native language. -- You, the student, dictate how I should adapt to your way of learning, day by day. -- My main goal is that you enjoy the whole process and have fun learning Spanish.