Learning a new language is one of the best gifts to give yourself. Sure, you learn new vocabulary, look smart in front of strangers and friends (unless they speak more languages than you!), and can order wine around the world, but thinking of the task ahead can be daunting. Honestly, as the odd kid out who loved French class growing up, it was always a barrel of laughs. But for many students, the learning curve seems steep and littered with frustration. If you want to learn a new language, all you need to do is find a fun way to make it happen and voilà! You’re off to the races…or to the airport once COVID is over.
This is just the tip of the iceberg, but here are (in no particular order) 25 super fun ways to learn new languages to get you started!
1. Date someone who speaks the language
Motivation is the number one indicator of someone’s likelihood to succeed when learning a new task. It’s safe to say that if you want to get to know that special someone, you’ll be pretty motivated to learn a phrase or two in another language. Need I say anymore on this exciting romantic option?
2. Move somewhere new
Yes, this isn’t possible in 2021; however it will be at some point and should therefore definitely remain an option on this list. There’s nothing like the sense of accomplishment you feel when you can independently navigate your new neighbourhood, or better yet, give someone else directions just like the locals. Add to that the excitement of ordering at restaurants, being locally employed, making new friends, and gaining a whole new perspective. I’d say that’s a pretty solid lineup.
3. Study abroad
Studying abroad is a fantastic and fun new way to learn language. Besides the fact that you will receive lessons on-site and be able to put them to use as soon as you exit the classroom, you’ll walk away with new friends around the world. Another stellar reason to study abroad is that you can do this as at any age, and for differing lengths of time. So, whether you’re in high school, university, or the working world, there’s an option for you to suit your needs and schedule.
4. Plan a trip
Talk about a motivating factor! If you’re learning a language for a specific reason (SMART goals!), you’re more likely to see the goal through. Open an Excel spreadsheet, or start a new bookmark folder and save ideas for things to do, see, and eat. Learn more about bite-size budget tips and start putting them into action. Don’t forget to sign up for travel coaching to avoid outrageous flight and accommodation prices. With all of these nuggets under your belt you’ll be ready to travel in no time!
5. Find a Pen Pal
Where are my friends who love snail mail and a good old-fashioned letter? How cool would it be to have a pen pal from another corner of the world? Yes, email is faster, but that’s not as exciting as opening your mailbox and seeing a letter addressed to you with a funky international stamp dancing in the corner! Plus there’s something special about handwritten letters that email will never replace. Seeing someone’s personality on the page, the paper they write on, maybe the doodles they add in the margins, all add to the experience. To find your pen pal, start with your social circle – either someone you know or someone you know who knows someone else. If that doesn’t turn up any leads then there are websites like these ones that connect you with a pen pal.
6. Join an Online Speaking Group
I haven’t used one of these online language exchange sites before, but this article here breaks down 9 different options for you. Who knows, while the world is in lockdown this may be a great way to gain a few new friends worldwide as well as learn a new language!
7. Play Language Games
It doesn’t matter if you’re 8 or 80, games are the best. Some solo language games include word searches, crosswords, word scrambles, Memory, etc… Any multi-player game can be a “language game” because language (in any form – written, spoken, reading, listening) is required. So grab one of the classics, or pick a new game from your friendly neighbourhood games store, and enjoy!
8. Teach Someone Else
Teaching someone else a skill that you’re learning is an awesome way to improve your proficiency. First, it boosts your self-esteem (and thus your motivation to keep going) because you’ve helped someone else and it’s a reminder to yourself that you’ve got mad skills. Second, you need to have a certain level of understanding and mastery to be able to communicate something to another person. Whether you teach a friend, a child, a partner, or a stranger, don’t be shy! You don’t have to be an expert in every part of the language (no one is, least of all the native speakers). Start small and go from there.
9. Download an App
Apps can be useful learning tools because of their portability. Gamified apps, like Duolingo, are quite popular with a range of ages. Others, like Linguacuisine are useful for completing everyday tasks like cooking in over 70 languages. Some apps are great for a specific part of the language learning journey, like Memrise is for building vocabulary. For more information, check out this post on the 4 best language learning apps.
10. Set a Goal
Goals are the key to making progress. If you want to learn a new language, set a goal. It can be something big and life-changing like moving to a new country, studying abroad, or taking the trip you’ve always dreamed of. It can be something technical and nerdy like memorizing all of the irregular conjugations in the present tense. Or, it can be something more random like saying a new alphabet backwards in under 20 seconds!
11. Reward Yourself
If you master the art of positive reinforcement, you can train yourself to do anything. The key to positive reinforcement is focusing on the little wins. The idea behind this learning trick is to strengthen each action you take towards mastering the target language. A free option can be as simple as keeping a calendar and marking each day that you practice. Visual representations of your efforts are extremely rewarding and it’s enjoyable to track your progress. Another idea would be to order a book or food related to the language you’re learning at the end of each week. There’s nothing like food to motivate humans! The bonus is that you get to choose the rewards, so they’ll always be something that you enjoy.
12. Cook Delicious New Recipes
There are a few different ways to spice up your language learning journey and one of them is found in your kitchen! If you enjoy cooking, there are a ton of food websites written in different languages. My favourite food rabbit hole to get lost in is FoodGawker. Another website for recipes in Italian and French, with bits of other languages sprinkled between, is the Languages Kitchen, and a third with all sorts of language options is found here. This is a ton of fun because you reap the rewards more than once – mastering the vocab and tasting the final product. A third layer of awesome would be to host friends and wow them with your cultural explorations. Additionally everyone could bring a dish and prepare a little information about it to share with your dinner party. Another amusing experiment would be to blindfold your guests and have them guess the ingredients in the target language. If at the time of reading we are still experiencing COVID lockdowns, try this with your family, roommates, or bubble. The only problem you’ll have is narrowing down the choices!
14. Watch a TV Series or Film
If you’re a beginner, or even an intermediate student, check out children’s TV shows before hopping into adult dramas or comedy series. The vocabulary will be simpler, the speech slower, and your confidence will soar when you realize you can understand a fair bit! On Netflix there are some children’s shows in other languages, such as The Magic School Bus, Dora the Explorer, and more. The shows that are available will depend on the region you’re watching in, unless you use a VPN. The odd time you can also find full episodes on YouTube, though they aren’t always the best quality. If you’re ready for adult programming, there are Korean dramas, Japanese series, Spanish shows, French movies, and more on Netflix. Alternatively you can watch an English-speaking program and select dubbing in another language. To increase or decrease the level of difficulty while watching, choose subtitles that match the audio or that are in your native tongue.
15. Read Books
There are two things I would suggest here. First, of course, is to read books in the target language to increase your vocabulary. Second, would be to read books about the places where the language resides to learn about the culture. These two entities, language and culture, are so intertwined that they are arguably two sides of the same coin. Learning a language is a lot more than memorizing new vocabulary – it’s the insight into different perspectives, traditions, history, and so on. For books that are set in countries where the language is spoken, try reading translated books from authors who are native speakers. Then, once your language skills are up to snuff, read the original and see how you did! There are so many ways that you can enrich your language learning journey with reading. These are just a few creative ideas to get you started. One of my favourite Instagram accounts I came across this year is My Book World Tour who is on a mission to read one womxn authored book from every country in the world!
16. Decorate Your House
Grab a pad of sticky notes, some markers, and get ready to label! Yes, this design technique won’t make it onto HGTV, but it all of these new words will stick in your brain! (See what I did there?) The act of writing, seeing, and saying these new words will reinforce the vocabulary each time they’re used. To add a bit more excitement, you can gamify this exercise. Have someone else write household vocab words on different sticky notes and spread them out on a table. Then, set a timer and see how quickly you can run around your home and quickly label these items. If you’re home alone during COVID lockdowns, you can participate as a solo player and play against friends in other homes or try to beat your own score!
17. Listen to Podcasts or Radio
There are so many good radio stations and podcasts available. Dare I say it feels like being a kid in a candy store when you’re looking through all of the options? My fellow Canadians out there will be familiar with the good ol’ CBC (Radio Canada for French news) and all of its different programs. There’s enough just on that one website to keep you busy for a while! If you’re looking to branch outside of the news, there are a plethora of options on the Foreign Language Podcasts. Alternatively, the French radio station 89.9 FM (KW), 90.3 FM (Toronto), 103.9 FM (Windsor), also known as the aforementioned Radio Canada, has the old souls and commuters covered. Also on the radio Toronto’s multilingual Chin Radio (100.7 FM and 91.9 FM). For the nerdier nerds out there, my ultimate favourite linguistics podcast is The Allusionist. I was fortunate to be a part of a live taping in Toronto once – and even am a tiny sound bite in the episode (“122”)! Happy listening and let me know which other podcasts or radio stations you suggest in the comments below!
18. Subscribe to a Newsletter, Magazine, or Newspaper
An excellent way to learn a new language is to keep up to date with the news. Sure, you could read the BBC and find out about what’s happening in another country in your mother tongue, but how much cooler would it be to read a newspaper from a different place. Just like books, TV, songs, and so on, newspapers also have a very different style, not to mention perspective. While living in Ireland I read the local newspapers to stay informed, but also to be entertained. Yes, they’re another English-speaking country; however their witty wordsmithing made reading the news much more entertaining than back home. I would also suggest trying out national as well as local publications since the vocabulary might also differ between them.
19. Rock Out with Lyrics Training
My students love using LyricsTraining – even the older ones! It’s a super fun way to train your ear and practice whatever language you’re learning. There are 13 available languages to choose from and an array of music genres. Each song has 4 levels – Beginner, Intermediate, Advanced, and Expert. Discovering new vocabulary through songs can be really helpful when it comes to slang, short forms, or more regional vocabulary.
20. Join a Class (and learn a new skill in the target language!)
Ever heard of piggybacking or stacking habits? Essentially what it means is to tag a new habit onto one that you already do to strengthen the likelihood of it continuing. For example, if you’re trying to drink more water you’d piggyback that action onto the habit of waking up. So, as soon as you wake up you reach for the glass of water waiting on your nightstand for you, or drink a glass right after brushing your teeth. What’s more fun than learning a new language while putting it to good use in a salsa class, or painting, or some other new activity? Plus, it’s an awesome way to meet people who have similar interests.
21. Get Tongue Tied
Every single time I do this exercise with a student we end up in fits of laughter. Tongue Twisters are a phenomenal way to practice pronunciation and fluidity, while busting a gut doing so. They can also be an excellent way to break the ice, start a class, or end your practice on a high note from all of the hilarious mistakes. Remember – mistakes are crucial to learning and something that should be embraced. Omniglot has tongue twisters in all sorts of languages. Let me know which one is your favourite in the comments below!
22. Order Takeout
Southwestern Ontario is a pretty diverse area, and luckily that translates into a lot of different food to choose from in the restaurants. If you’re from Waterloo Region, check out this ultimate list of local restaurants serving authentic worldwide cuisines. Wherever you live, one of the best tips I can give you is to order from the mom and pop restaurants. In fact, never go in to a chain again – the food is gross, the ethics are worse, and you won’t miss it at all. Locally-owned mom and pop shops’ main ingredients are a whole lotta love and pride for their family’s best kept kitchen secrets. Trust me, you won’t be disappointed.
23. Subscribe to a YouTube Channel
YouTube is addicting, there’s no way around it. It’s also extremely helpful, so let’s just say you’re addicted to learning! There’s a channel for everything on this platform, from how to clean your floors, to how to make a million dollars, to how to give a cat a lion haircut, to how to learn any number of languages. Start with a simple search like, “how to learn ____ language” and browse through the options. Once you find a channel that works for you, subscribe and save the most helpful videos so that you can return to them later.
24. Get Lost
If you’re thinking, “Get lost?! Are you nuts?!”, I’m thinking, “Buckle up and get ready for some funny stories!”. Sure, you could use your phone and rely on Google Maps when in another country, but what fun would that be? Assuming you’re not under any time constraints, ditch the tech and try out old fashioned charades if the words aren’t readily coming to you. You’re bound to learn a few new pieces of vocabulary along the way, maybe make a new friend, and definitely have a story to tell afterwards. If that’s not entertaining, I don’t know what is.
25. Hire a Private Teacher!
There are many good reasons to hire a private teacher to help on your learning journey. Excellent reasons to hire a private teacher include the stability and consistency in schedule, having direct access to someone for questions, participating in lessons that are tailored to you and your learning needs, flexibility of class times, and more. Having been a teacher in public schools, international schools, private language schools, and having taught privately, I’ve seen it all. Without a doubt, there are amazing benefits to hiring a private teacher. And, luckily with the Internet there are a lot of qualified professionals who can meet your needs! One of the best parts of private teaching for me, has been to “bring my students on the road” when I travel and introduce them to wherever I’m staying. Who says you can’t learn about Japan in French class?! If you’re interested in learning more, head on over to the Teach section and feel free to send me an email with any questions.
The most fun way to learn languages is…
Truly, the best ways to learn a language are those that make sense for you. Learning, no matter the skill, is such a unique experience and no two people understand and acquire skills in the same way. Whatever method of language learning you use, have fun, stay consistent, and the rest will follow. Personally, I’m a huge advocate of travelling and incorporating games into language learning. They’re the perfect tools to mask the “tough” parts and keep me motivated. The best tip I can give you is to combine your language learning with your other interests. If you’ve got any other interesting or fun ways to learn languages, leave them in the comments below!