Learn a Language at Home: 3 Simple Tools

learn a language at home

Learn a Language at Home: 3 Simple Tools

How would it be if you knew you could learn a new language at home without great expense, hours of tedious study, traveling to courses, or disrupting your life? Transform your downtime into skills in a new language. Think about the situation right now. Many of us are stuck at home. We can’t go anywhere. How can you turn the time that you have at home into a new language?

If you have a smartphone or anything that can connect to the internet, but anything that’s mobile, you have the ultimate language learning lab enabling anyone to learn a language at home. Many years ago, language learning labs had to be stationary. They were in one place and there was no internet. You had to listen to cassettes and tapes to go have those immersive experiences. Now, this phone, you can learn any language anywhere if you’ve got this.

I want to talk about some surprising apps to learn a language at home, and as much as I love Duolingo, that’s not what I’m referring to. 

The first one is Google. If you can connect to the internet, there are thousands upon thousands of podcasts that are going to allow you access to any language you want to learn. 

Some are specifically geared towards beginning learners, and others are more advanced. Learn a language at home, regardless of your level.

You can get free materials from the largest search engines. Pinterest is a huge search engine. If you want to learn Spanish, go ahead and type that. Learn Spanish. Want to learn French? They’re going to take you to all these blogs and resources, the things that are pinned to this amazing search engine. YouTube is another example. You’ll find a plethora of material to learn a language at home on the three biggest search engines in the world, Google, YouTube, and Pinterest.

On your phone, Audible is one of my very favorite apps to learn a language at home. There are tons of audio courses published for learners of many languages. They’re really easily and readily available. Some of my very favorite for beginners are Pimsleur courses. I love Michel Thomas, and I love Earworms. You can listen to levels to get started. You can also listen when you start becoming an intermediate. I absolutely love Olly Richards’ short stories. He publishes in lots of languages. Listen to them over and over again. It’s an amazing way to build your vocabulary and hear some interesting stories at the same time.

When you become advanced or you start moving into the advanced levels, audio books are great to learn a language at home. They are what helped me do that final step towards speaking Spanish like a native. I spent a five-week period during the summer where I listened to novels and self help books in Spanish over and over again. I walked and I cleaned while listening. I really focused on deep understanding. Audio books are probably one of the best resources out there for language learners of all levels. You can do this anywhere with a phone. You can listen on your laptop, your desktop, your Alexa.

eBooks, any app that you use to read books on a device will work. I’m going to share two of my very favorite resources. They are phrasebooks. Phrasebooks are the perfect eBook or resource for a beginner, and they’re easily available online. These are two in Italian. If you buy a phrasebook online, the great thing is that you can find ones that have audio apps built in. What’s great about phrasebooks is, while they’re meant for travelers, there’s a reason that it’s great for beginners.

Language for travel is all language that is completely in context. The whole idea is to help you survive, to order food, to be able to greet somebody, to understand a little bit about the culture. These are essentials for any beginning learner. Also, the language is served up in chunks, which we’ll talk about a little bit later, but this is a great resource that you can easily read on any app, your Kindle, your iBooks. Any eReader you have is your second amazing app.

Video chat. It is astounding what you can do on that first tool, your phone, your ultimate language learning lab. I’m going to talk about one of my very favorite resources, which is italki. Italki.com has done something really brilliant. There are qualified language teachers living all over the world offering lessons by video chat. You could do Skype or WeChat in China. You can connect in the next hour with a teacher who speaks your language, the language you want to learn, and you could be having a lesson on Skype or FaceTime or Google Meet or Google Hangouts. It’s amazing what you can do.

The second tool is a notebook. This is a very simple low tech tool that is going to become one of your very best friends throughout your language learning journey. Spend some time with a notebook every day, and I’m going to give you a couple of really specific activities to do in a notebook. The very first one is to create your own phrasebook. So we talked about how valuable phrasebooks are for beginning language learners.

Phrasebooks are powerful because they focus completely on communication. They don’t get into the grammar. If they do, it’s not much. They just get into telling you what you need to be able to communicate with people, and you can make your own based on any topic if you have a notebook, and you can use Google Translate. Google Translate is not perfect, by any means. However, for example, one time I looked up the word may in Italian, and I got, logically, Maggio, which is the month of May. It doesn’t know the difference between that and sort of may I, so you have to really be thinking. But what’s great about Google Translate is that it is constantly analyzing documents that are known to have been translated by human beings, so it’s always improving.

Essentially, you can take a notebook and you can create a phrasebook for any task you want. It doesn’t have to just be communication survival. It can be, for example, asking someone to do something with you socially. You can take a section of your notebook and write down all the words and phrases that you need to do that, and then we’ll get into studying that in just a minute.

Vocabulary columns. I have this example from when I was learning French. I wrote about my family, and if you speak French, you’ll see I made a mistake there in my spelling. That’s okay. What I did is, write down all the words that I wanted to know in one column. The words and phrases, you’ll see they’re all in chunks. You’re going to keep hearing me referring to the word chunking. Chunking, which means learning a chunk of words in a meaningful context. For example, not just the word I, or would, and then like, as three separate words, learning I’d like. That’s a meaningful chunk that I can use in many different contexts.

I have the list of words that I want to know, and then I have them in French. Then what you do is, you’re going to fold that over, you see how the paper’s folded, and you’re going to try to recall, in another column, all the words that you’ve learned after you’ve studied them, and whatever you miss, you go back and you check and you fill in. You go back and study again. So for example, I would recall all that French. I would write down, in another column, I’d fold it over, and write down another column to English to see that I understood and then I would go check for any if I missed any.

I would then fold it over again or on the other side, and I would start recalling. I would fold this French over, and I would write down the words again in French and unfold the paper to study the column. So a list of about 15 to 20 words, you can easily master in about an hour with one piece of paper like this, where you’re just constantly going back and forth between the two languages by folding the columns over and testing yourself. It’s pretty intense but a great way to learn a language at home.

There’s another way to do this, which is called the Gold List Method, and you should look up somebody called Lýdia Machová, a language mentor who speaks numerous languages without ever having lived abroad, and she does this very simple Gold List Method, and the next language that I start, next time I start a language, I’m definitely going to spend a lot of focus on that Gold List Method, where essentially, you write down 20 words and phrases in columns similar to this, and you just carve out a little bit of time to study. 

Doodles. I love doing and assigning doodles to learn languages. It’s great. You draw a picture and you label all the words. It’s a great way to learn languages on your own, and as you see, I am certainly not talented in being an artist. However, it gets the job done.

I wanted to share with you some more examples of chunking. I wanted to give you some really concrete examples. Where is the bathroom, excuse me, thank you. Here’s some chunks in Spanish for a beginning learner of Spanish. De means of, nada means nothing, de nada, of nothing, you’re welcome, learning that language in meaningful chunks. It’s going to take you a lot longer by learning different disparate words. So keep a focus on meaningful communication in chunks, and spend time every day in your notebook.

Our third tool is time. We all have the same 24 hours in a day. Right now, I think we all have more time on our hands than normal. For example, one of the activities I have done for years is listen in my car on my commute. I’m very busy with just life in general. I don’t have as much time as I would like when I’m in the school year to be able to study languages. My commute allows that for me. 

Right now, I don’t have a commute. I’m teaching from home, so I have that time to spend in learning a language. Right now, I’m spending my commute time where I would normally be traveling to work, doing Yabla, something I can’t do when I’m traveling to work because I’m driving. I love Yabla to learn a language at home.

I wanted to share with you a little bit about how long it takes to learn a language to a professional level of fluency. In the United States, there is something called a Foreign Service Institute, and essentially, they train people to work in embassies and consulate offices all over the world, and they’ve done a lot of research in order to set up their courses effectively over many, many years. And so, as a result, they’ve categorized different languages, and if you do this research yourself, you might see them quoted differently, but this is the latest research, the latest figures that they’ve put out.

In the free course I will share with you at the end, you’ll learn what the different levels mean that I refer to. Category one languages-to hit that professional level of fluency, sort of high B2 to low C1, which is, it takes 600 to 750 class hours in languages that are similar to English, so Danish, Dutch, French, Italian, Spanish. 

Category two languages take a little bit longer. German for example, slightly longer. 

Category three languages, 44 weeks, so more than a 1,000 class hours to hit that same level of fluency. 

There’s category four languages, which take sort of two to three times as long.

I’d like to think of them, in very simple terms, as languages from countries geographically really close to England. Those languages are just easier. They share more with English culture linguistically. You start moving farther away, their writing systems are different, but not too different. For example, you think about the Greek alphabet. It’s not really that different. It’s different. You move farther and farther away, these different alphabets, so Tai, or Vietnamese, or Farsi, Arabic, Japanese, Korean, Chinese, culturally, linguistically, there’s very little in common. It takes a far longer time to reach that same level of competency.

We talked about chunking. Again, that’s learning languages in meaningful chunks. One way is to find a place, in those 24 hours, for not just your audio courses, or your time in your notebook, but language immersion. As you see, I’ve got this salsa instruction video. You can learn something new while you’re learning a language. Go on YouTube, again that search engine, and find tutorials in your target language. It’s something you want to do. This is learning salsa. Repeat the video a bunch of times, you’re going to learn so many words. For people who are trying to learn Spanish, I highly recommend exercise at the same time. By Maybe you want to do something called bachata, which is exercise. 

Here’s a cooking tutorial completely for free on YouTube in French. You’ll learn a lot. Repeat the tutorials. This is called language immersion. You’re going to learn something else while you’re learning a language.

One of my very favorite tools I was talking about earlier, Yabla. They’re brilliant and fantastic, and what they’ve done is. They’ve taken one of the biggest concepts in language learning, one of the most important ones, which is called comprehensible input. With comprehensible input, you learn from the things you understand

When I was learning French, I spent a lot of time in Yabla. They’ve given you all kinds of games and ways to really understand a huge catalog of content from the French speaking world. They’ve made it comprehensible, offering a huge library of input that is comprehensible. They help you with subtitles, captioning and games to really get that language in there.

There are some great apps. One of my very favorites is called Instant Immersion, or uTalk, and they are not designed to get you to a high level of fluency. They’re designed to get you started and they’re really addictive games. They’re offered in, I think 144 languages. There are great apps out there, like I love Duolingo. I think there’s now podcasts and some languages even have chat bots, so much fun. I love Drops and Memorize. There are some fantastic tools out there to get you that comprehensible input.

Lyrics, this is called LyricsTraining. Songs can be a great gateway into vocabulary and culture. Go to LyricsTraining.com, if you enjoy singing and music, this is a great resource, and it’s just one example of many out there.

Netflix. this is my very favorite language tool, particularly once you’ve gotten out of the intermediate level. Netflix has lots of controls to where you can close caption, you can translate, and there’s a browser extension called Language Learning with Netflix. It allows you to turn your Netflix into a great comprehensible input language learning lab.

You can reap these amazing benefits with just a few minutes every day. If you recall earlier in my presentation, I talked about Dr. Bak, and he shared with me this project called Lingo Flamingo, where care homes in Scotland are starting to work with Lingo Flamingo to do some cognitive training with people who already have dementia. As a brain exercise, a few minutes of language, it’s sort of like just flexing that muscle, and the older you are, the better it is for you. But even if you’re not even thinking about dementia, which I can understand, it’s not pleasant, we don’t want to, you can reap all these benefits of being able to communicate with people all over the world, improve your cognitive function, improve that cognitive reserve, get the social benefits with just a few minutes every day.

There are some amazing people out there that are showing people how to learn languages really quickly. While I know how to learn languages quickly, I’m all about doing it in a way that fits into my life. I do a lot of it on my commute with audio courses, at all levels. Just a half an hour in the morning and a half an hour in the afternoon. 

If you have a commute where you’re not driving, maybe you’re on the train, you get to use some of those really fun apps.

I love to do my walking and cleaning and do audio courses. This is a way to hit goals, while I’m getting other things done. 

While I’m doing my errands, I’ve got my phone, I’ve got my headphones, do my shopping. 

You can turn downtime into language learning time. 

Just turn a little bit of time every day into language learning time and all that time adds up. Think back to those language categories that we were talking about. Most of us don’t fit that profile of that Foreign Service Institute student. Right? We’re not going to have a block of time to dedicate every day, 8, 10 hours a day, simply to language learning with highly skilled instructors. We’ve got jobs, we’ve got families, we’ve got things to do, and we want to have a life. 

If you want to spend all your time studying languages, please do so, but I’ll be honest, after I do my half an hour or my hour a day, I’m fine with that. I know I can get good results from more intense periods of time, work my five weeks during the summer, but it’s only realistic for me personally during the summer because I don’t have my classes to teach. I’m too busy during school to do anything other than an hour a day. All of those little bits of time you can get, for example, if you want to learn Mandarin, it’s going to take you longer than if you want to learn Spanish and you’re going to have to carve out more time to hit those same levels of fluency.

I wanted to invite you to a new course that I created, where I get really into more specific details about how to turn all of your time into language learning time that I’m opening up. 

Did you take a language at school, but you didn’t feel like you gained the skills you wanted to? Do you want to become a competent communicator in another language quickly, but you don’t have time to disrupt your life as it is? Do you want advice from experts who have mastered multiple languages in classrooms, home, living abroad, and online from all over the world? You’re going to apply the research behind language learning and start learning a language today in this course.

Imagine if you could start learning a language in the next hour with those three simple tools that we talked about. You probably have a phone, a notebook and you definitely have time, and imagine being able to ward off the onset of dementia later in life by four to five years with a small investment of time each day now. Imagine learning a language in a place you’ve always dreamed of, speaking to people in the next hour, and learning how to turn activities you already need to do into language learning activities.

I’m going to share with you several bonuses for people who enroll today. For the course, years of my life, my expertise, and my academic training, we’re going to get into how different people have used five weeks to have great success. You’re going to see some of the great polyglots and some of the best programs in the world where people are intensely trained. They’re going to share their secrets with you and how you can do that for yourself.

You’re going to get the language learning workbook, which is 400 specific prompts and exercises you can do in any language. Go back to that notebook, those tasks. You’re going to learn how to use this tool with an app and the workbook to hit any level of fluency you want, and you’re going to get the self assessment workbook, where you get to go through, and it talks, in detail, about different language levels and what they mean and how to reach them. And you’re going to find numerous tools where you can measure your own progress, something I really wish I had had years ago when I wanted to hit that native level of Spanish, and from what I’ve learned through my training, as a way to run a proficiency course.

Learn a language at home using these three simple tools.

Want to check out the course and learn a language from anywhere over the next year? https://real-life-language.teachable.com/p/the-5-week-linguist

Looking to get started? Check out the free podcast and start learning a language today. http://reallifelanguage.com/reallifelanguageblog/

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