I am Carys, and I am currently completing a remote translation internship with Aktuel following on from my university studies in languages and translation. The internship has been very enjoyable, I have had the opportunity to do plenty of proofreading, technical translations and some work on the website – like this blog!

How to incorporate language learning into everyday life

Carys Robins

Even experienced linguists must start learning languages from the very basics. When I discuss language learning with other adults, there is a shared passion and interest in learning a foreign language, several even comment ‘I wish I had kept up my language skills after I left school’. Yet most feel too busy to find time in their schedules for language learning, and/or they are too tired to focus on it after a long day at work. Does this sound like I am describing you? I have put together a list of ways that you can incorporate foreign languages into your everyday life without too much interruption to your schedule.

Streaming services and social media

Did you know that on Netflix (UK), plenty of the popular shows are dubbed and/or subtitled in five different languages? And, if their selection does not include your language of choice, you can search for native shows instead? One of the benefits of being able to speak English is that it is almost always available as an option for subtitles on programmes that are filmed in a different language. You probably watch Netflix for several hours a week, so why not try watching your old favourites or current shows in English, but with French subtitles? Or the other way around, to absorb the sound of spoken French. It is surprising to see how many words are repeated throughout, and you might pick them up easily. This way of learning a foreign language does not take up any extra time, either!

I love listening to music most days and listening to foreign music instead of English all the time has helped me to acquire many new words – it is particularly interesting for learning more informal or even vulgar language! On Spotify, you can search for playlists like ‘Italian pop’ or browse the music charts of any country in the world! If you have time, looking up the lyrics and listening alongside is good practice. If not, it does not matter – you are still being exposed to the language while you are driving, exercising or working. There are podcasts in languages other than English on Spotify, too.

On Instagram and Twitter there are plenty of language learning accounts that share posts with vocabulary or grammar points. You will expose yourself to your chosen foreign language while scrolling through your feed or stories, without taking up more time in your busy schedule. For learning Italian, I personally recommend ‘Learn Italian with Lucrezia’ on Instagram and YouTube – she provides lots of useful resources.

Learn vocabulary you are genuinely curious about

If you are going to learn a language, learn vocabulary you are genuinely interested in, at least to begin with. Words that you use often, you are more likely to remember. For example, if you enjoy football and play or watch it regularly, then learning the words for ‘hattrick’ or ‘offside’ in a foreign language is more likely to stick in your brain. Each time you encounter the word in English, you can repeat it in the foreign language. But, if you dislike football and never really engage with it, these words may be soon forgotten. Some categories of words are also easier to acquire than others. For example, technology vocabulary tends to be very similar across languages, and the same goes for the names of countries or big cities.

This is where language learning apps tend to have their pitfalls. I believe Duolingo and similar platforms have done wonders for inspiring language learning worldwide and providing users with an initial interest in and the basics of a foreign language of their choosing. But in my experience, these apps do not work in the long term! I have two language-related degrees, yet I could not interest myself in more than a fortnight of Romanian lessons on Duolingo. I learned how to say, ‘the man drinks the milk or the water’, but that is about it, and repeating sentences such as this is not going to get me very far in Bucharest. You may find that, like me, you are far more motivated to watch foreign programmes and listen to foreign music than do a series of multiple-choice quizzes on your phone.

Start with the easy stuff

If the first time you decide to listen to Italian, you tune into something very complex, such as the news on TG1, chances are it will feel quite overwhelming and demoralising because you will not understand all that much. While you may catch the odd word like ‘la Brexit’ or ‘il Coronavirus’, most of it will be incomprehensible. Newsreaders, and native speakers in general, talk extremely fast to one another so it is no surprise that you will not understand it. They are also probably talking about some national government mess that you may know nothing about!

I recommend starting with something a bit more familiar to you, or simpler. Yes, I am talking about children’s stuff. When I was 13 and started getting really into my school French lessons, I would go home and sit on YouTube listening to and learning all the Disney songs in French. Many of the videos I found had lyrics too. I was already familiar with the Disney stories and songs in English, and even if the translations differ slightly, the story is the same. I learned lots of vocabulary by doing this and it really helped me to excel in French lessons. The songs can be found on music streaming services too. If even Disney seems to be going right over your head, try something at the Teletubbies level – yes, they speak French, too! I learned the French ‘La Trottinette’ (scooter) from watching Po many years ago and it has stuck!

Use dictionaries rather than Google Translate

Downloading proper dictionaries onto your phone can be much more productive than using Google Translate all the time. Google is good – at a (very) basic language level, anyway – for turning sentences into foreign languages or vice versa – you get the gist of what is being said. But if you are just wanting to look up the odd word every now and then, dictionaries will give you a choice of words depending on the definition and context. I recommend WordReference for looking up single words (e.g., ‘dog’ and ‘food’), and Reverso Context for short phrases (e.g., ‘dog food’). On Reverso Context there is a feature where you can see how many times that rendering has been used, and there are plenty of example sentences. You can keep these dictionaries handy on your phone and it takes less than a minute to look something up.

This is in no way an exhaustive list of ideas, but it should help you to get started with your language learning and hopefully you will retain some vocabulary for your chosen language. You will be learning grammar and tenses in no time!

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