Four easy techniques for using foreign language every day

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.

tips to learn Spanish

img ©minneapolis institute of arts)

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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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:

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:

  1. 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?
  2. 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.

By Kerstin Hammes