Social Distancing and Language Learning
This post contains affiliate links.
This is an unprecedented time.
Just a few months ago, we couldn’t have imagined this. All we hear in the media right now is social distancing and Coronavirus. And with good reason. Many people are suffering as a result of this right now in so many ways.
If I am honest, I am anxious. While I am doing my best to keep up with the news in order to learn as much as I can, there are so many unknowns. I can’t answer a lot about what is going on in the world today, but I can share with you real ways that you can learn a language without ever leaving your house.
I have spent most of my life learning and teaching languages. Much of my work has been focused on finding ways to help people who are not language nuts (like myself) to learn and enjoy it, fit learning into my life realistically, and find activities that get the job done without much time, money or travel abroad. I wanted to share this summary of resources for you to learn languages where you are right now.
There are lots of materials out there to learn a new language. Think textbooks, courses, college courses, apps, Flashcards. All of these things can be super helpful in helping you learn all the rules, patterns, structures and vocabulary while you’re learning a new language.
Understanding language acquisition is extremely important when you want to learn a new language. Acquisition is that natural process of picking up a new language- just like you did with your first language. It starts with listening. It’s followed by speaking. We then learn to read when we learn what our language looks like. Lastly, we master how to write. All of these skills work simultaneously and support each other once they are in progress. For example, you hear a word that eventually is incorporated into your writing.
We acquired our language naturally through our relationships, our environment, TV, movies, books, our teachers. Essentially we learned it through full-on immersion. Successful learners and polyglots know that the perfect combination of learning and acquisition can truly accelerate your ability to understand and communicate in a new language.
I love Duolingo, but doing any one thing over and over can become tedious. I want to share some other tools so you can keep your learning fresh, fun and engaging.
Here are some tools you can use today, without ever leaving your home country to incorporate into your language studies, that can help you mimic that immersive environment where you learned your first language.
If you’re not familiar with Yabla, get familiar. It is one of the greatest tools out there to experience language immersion. Yabla is a subscription site that puts out new content every week right from the target language country.
You can see dramas, commercials, news reports, and it has a patented player that lets you look up words, subtitles, captions. It can play slow, it can play fast, there are also numerous games that are included with every video. You can make Flashcards of the new vocabulary. Teachers can also use it- it’s a great way to teach a language. You can immerse your students, as long as they have an internet connection, in authentic real language.
I am a proud affiliate, and have some links below to their subscriptions.
I am teaching online at the moment. I don’t have a commute for the time being, and I am spending that time I would normally be in my car for the next five weeks doing Yabla Italian.
I think the internet and the smartphone have been two of the biggest advances for making language accessible to anybody anywhere. We’ve never lived in a time before in history where people share their culture and language so readily and easily, and it’s growing all the time. You could learn a whole new language just on your phone.
One of the apps I particularly love is the Audible App (any equivalent Audiobook app will do). Listen to a course. When you’re more advanced, listen to stories. The great thing is you can accomplish something else while you’re doing this.
Maybe you want to increase your walking (Leslie Sansone Walk at Home) and do something great for your health. You can listen to your Audiobooks over and over again and soak up new vocabulary and grammar every time. Do it while you’re cleaning the house. It’s a great way to up your language skills and get something productive done at the same time.
Gabriel Wyner, author of the bestselling book Fluent Forever, has created an app. He’s taken his whole Anki Flashcard system and has developed an app to make cards very easy to make. What’s great about it is that you can make a completely personalized immersive experience with text, video, audio, images, put it right on your phone, and study anywhere.
Target language television
There are so many people out there publishing their own broadcasts on YouTube, you probably just need to know what to look for.
If you’re learning Spanish check out the telenovelas. I love French reality shows. There’s so much to choose from. You can sit and watch something interesting as many times as you need to to understand, all while learning a new language, and learning a lot about what’s going on in your target language country.
Check out these reality shows in French Youtube French
Learn some keywords in your target language and find content that is perfect for your interests and goals. Learn Spanish and salsa for free at the same time on Youtube. Learn French and cooking at the same time on Youtube.
Turn your Netflix into a language learning app:
Whether you are practicing social distancing or not, a notebook is a simple, highly effective tool to help you learn a language.
Organize the words and phrases you want to learn by a theme for the week in a task notebook. For example, a page might have everything to meet and greet someone in a new language, or to return something at a store.
With beginning themes (think greeting, getting around, eating, expressions of courtesy, etc.), use vocabulary columns or the Goldlist method.
Vocabulary columns are a very straightforward way to learn a set of words. Write down your list in your TL in one column. Write the equivalents in the next column. Then fold over the first column and try to write down the words in your TL. Go back and study the ones you didn’t recall immediately. Keep doing this. I can easily learn a set of 10-15 phrases doing this on one piece of paper.
The Goldlist method is an equally simple way to use notebooks to learn languages.
Get a simple phrasebook, or make your own.
eBooks are a fantastic way to immerse yourself in language. It used to be much more of a challenge to get books in another language, it’s not anymore. If you have a Kindle or any kind of eReader. Amazon is constantly delivering new eBooks.
Project Gutenberg has free eBooks in a variety of languages for anyone wanting to learn. Read Google news from the target language by changing your settings.
My Harvard-educated attorney uncle who speaks/practices law in Spanish, once told me years ago that the best way to learn any language is to go to a bar, have a beer or two, and talk to people. That may not be an option for many independent language learners living all over the globe, and it certainly is not an option for minors, but the basic concept holds true here. We can connect with people and speak their language in a comfortable, non-threatening environment. iTalki exists for that very purpose.
In addition to the opportunity to connect with native speakers all over the world that italki can provide, there are many perks. The teachers on italki can provide exactly what learners at any level need.
You can be learning from a native speaker in any part of the world starting today.
My affiliate link, if you want to try it out:
I hope these resources offer you some high interest activities to your online language immersion, and give you a lot more insight into the culture in real authentic language during this time of increasing social distancing. Select a new immersive experience and invest time every day in it over the next five weeks. You will be amazed at your progress.