How to Succeed in Foreign Language Without Really Trying

Posted by at 1:19AM

Of course you should try to succeed in foreign language, but if you’re really missing your teachers from high school, learning Xhosa for the first time ever, or figuring out how many verbs Spanish really does have, you may be discouraged by your classes occasionally.  But there are lots of ways to study for foreign language classes without just endlessly reviewing conjugations (although you’ll have to do that sometimes too.)

READ A BOOK

And make it something that you know very well in English.  The ideal situation is to find a book you read in English that was originally written in the language you’re trying to learn for maximum authenticity, but anything will work.  I read Harry Potter in French and that is where a good 40% of my French vocabulary comes from.  Plus, the mental exercise of reading something you know in a different language is quite cool–it’s like reading two books at once, one of which is printed in some normally inaccessible parallel dimension.  How many times has verb conjugation given you a psychedelic experience?

READ THE NEWS

If you’re trying to keep up with the news and don’t feel like you have enough time to keep track of current events and your homework, mix the two together.  Try to find a free online newspaper in your language of choice (Arabic has Al-Jazeera, French has Le Monde, etc.)  Find a particular column or read the headlines about whatever you’re interested in.  It’s an excellent way to pick up more specialized but useful vocabulary, especially if you’re going abroad and want to take classes in a foreign language.  I like reading the science and environmental news for the vocabulary, and the movies reviews for their challenging style, which is less factual and straightforward and far more literary.

LISTEN TO A SONG IN ANOTHER LANGUAGE ON YOUTUBE

it’s especially useful to listen to one with subtitles in the same language so you can see which words are actually being said–avoid foreign mondegreens!  Play it all the time, get it stuck in your head, try to parse out the lyrics, sing it in the shower.  Repeat.

TALK TO PEOPLE WHO SPEAK THE LANGUAGE FLUENTLY

Family, friends, professors, campus staff, the nice waiter at your favorite restaurant, your great-aunt from Germany, international students, your teachers from high school,whoever.  Even if it’s just a short exchange.  Most people who know another language will be forgiving of mistakes and speak slower to help you understand.  It’s useful not just to practice your own speaking skills, but also to listen to a real accent and the ineffable authenticating speech patterns you can’t pick up from a textbook.

And last but not least…

READ THE PRODUCT PACKAGING

Ever seen Fabrique en Chine?  Hecho en India?  Reading the product information on packaging may not be the most exciting use of your language skills, but it can be an enlightening one.  In Canada, this very activity has given rise to what a friend of mine called “cereal box French”–everyone knows how to say things like “calories,” “carbohydrates,” “organic,” and “new look, same great taste” because of bilingual packaging!

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One Response to “How to Succeed in Foreign Language Without Really Trying”

  1. RavenclawIsCalBlue? says:

    Love your user name :)

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