Language Learning: immersion learning in your living room.

Language immersion the most exciting way, hanging out in Milan’s Navigli district with my pal!

If you’re at all interested in language learning, whether for fun or business, you’ll be aware that the immersion technique — where you’re constantly surrounded by and using your second language on a daily basis — is considered one of the best ways to learn.

That’s one of the reasons that university language degrees include a compulsory Erasmus element, where you spend an entire academic year teaching or studying in the country of your second language. (See Mum, I told you it wasn’t just an excuse to spend a year drinking Prosecco and eating pasta…) It’s also one of the reasons I’m so jealous of translators who live in the country of their second working language!

And it’s all well and good if you have student loans covering your trip or you’ve built yourself a viable working life in a second country, but how can the rest of us learn or maintain a second language if we have neither the funds nor the freedom to enjoy such immersive language learning experience? Or if we’ve already used up our Erasmus allowance?

Can we really benefit from language immersion without leaving the comfort of our own living room?

Well, yes to an extent I reckon we can. All it takes is a little creativity, a lot of motivation and an uber-reliable broadband connection!

1. Radio Gaga

The key is to try to recreate the conditions you’d be living in if you were camped out in Italy, France or wherever they speak the language you’re learning. You’d be constantly surrounded; every time you switch on the radio or TV you’d be exposed to your second language.

Luckily, you’d don’t need a passport to achieve a similar effect. These days it’s simple to find foreign radio stations online and the bonus is that you won’t just be learning the language, you’ll be picking up all sorts of cultural titbits from the presenters’ banter and the (sometimes hilarious!) adverts as well as keeping up to date with the current music scene. It’s also a great way of gaining knowledge of current affairs by listening to the hourly news bulletins or tuning in for special interviews.

2. Spotify

My favourite radio station to tune in to is virginradio.it (but I’m open to suggestions if anyone has any good ones?). The problem here is that the majority of the songs they play are English language ones which kinda defeats the purpose.

Enter Spotify. This is a great little tool for finding songs in your foreign language. For instance, if I search for and listen to an album by Eros Ramazzotti (don’t judge!), at the end of the album Spotify will start to play songs by related artists, usually in the same language, so I’m introduced to other Italian-language singers too. Challenge yourself to pick a song each week, learning the lyrics and memorising any new vocab.

Spotify is also a great resource for language learning podcasts. For example, searching for ‘Italian course’ brings up an Easy Italian Audio Course, a search of ‘advanced Italian’ brings up exactly that plus a section of ‘fun and useful Italian idioms’ that I’m totally going to save for later.

3. Video

One of my favourite discoveries this year has been http://www.cultura.rai.it/ which has loads of videos, in Italian, on art, culture and literature. It’s often easier to understand a language when you can see the person speaking so this is ideal if you’re getting a bit frustrated with the radio.

Youtube is also a font of inspiration for the language learner. Here you can find Ted talks, recipe videos, gamer chat or whatever subjects interest you, all in your second language. Any time you’re browsing online, whether for a recipe for your dinner or how to change a tyre, search in your target language instead of your own.

4. Change your phone and Facebook settings

When we think about just how much time we spend on our devices each day, we’d be missing a trick if we didn’t change our phone and Facebook (etc!) settings to our target language. This is especially useful if, like me, you learned your second language before words like ‘selfie’ and ‘tag’ entered common usage. Yes, I am that old.

5. Speaking

It’s all well and good listening to your second language whenever you’re at home, if you’re not speaking it on a daily basis, you’re not getting the full immersion experience.

Skype is your friend here. There are loads of language learning groups online where you can find other learners who’d be willing to Skype chat to help you hone your speaking skills. But if the very thought of speaking to randoms online terrifies you, even just reading aloud or having conversations with yourself can help with pronunciation. Or try copying the speech in some of the videos you’re watching to familiarise yourself with the cadence and rhythm of the language.

Okay, so none of that will ever be as exciting as dusting off your passport and throwing yourself into another country, another culture and another language but in language learning terms I would say it’s definitely the next best thing.

Are you learning a language from the comfort of your own living room? If so I’d love to hear your top tips too! And if, like me, you’re a translator living in their target language country, I’d love to know your top tips for keeping your language skills fresh (other than, you know, actually translating stuff).

Language learning tips for advanced learners.

Learning a new language always seems to feature on bucket lists and New Year’s Resolutions and there are a myriad of methods and resources ideally suited to the novice language learner. For those who have already achieved an advanced level in a foreign language, however, the path to improvement can be trickier. The novelty of picking up a new language has well and truly worn off and motivation can wane. Popular resources, like duolingo, or basic grammar books just aren’t quite pitched at the right level for you.

I have definitely reached this point.

I have a degree in Italian but graduation is a distant memory and my fluency is nowhere near the standard it once was. I’m sure many of you who studied a language at university and spent a fun-filled Erasmus year picking up a new lingo can relate to the frustration I sometimes feel when trying to string together a sentence in Italian!

I currently work as a freelance copywriter and editor but I’m longing to delve into the realms of translation and add an extra arm to my business. To that end, I’ve enrolled in a course of post graduate study in translation methodology, due to start next year.

The clock is ticking and my half-hearted attempts at relearning my beloved Italian, simply aren’t going to cut it anymore.

So, whether you’re like me and your professional endeavours dictate that you get your head down and increase your fluency, or you simply love learning languages and you want to take your skills from intermediate to advanced, read on for my top tips on how to go about it.

1. Meetup groups

This has got to be in the number one spot. If you’re like me, you will have found that the one area in which your language skills are really lacking, is speaking and listening. I have a decent passive vocabulary and can read magazine articles and newspapers with relative ease but when it comes to holding a conversation with a native speaker, I’m not where I was, nor where I want to be.

So, if you do nothing else to advance your fluency, heed this one piece of advice and find yourself a local meetup group. Most big towns and cities have them and if you can’t find a group for your chosen language, then create one.

I’ve been visiting my local group sporadically for over a year now and I have found that the periods in which I make the effort to attend consistently, I can see real improvements in my language ability.

For me, the key is to prepare before you go. Try to think of possible topics of conversation such as information about you and your interests, current affairs or your reasons for learning the language, and research the vocabulary you might need to conduct these conversations. The fact that the chat might go in a completely different direction is irrelevant. You will still benefit from the prep work; you’ll feel more confident when you walk into the venue and you will have learned some new phrases or remembered some long forgotten vocab.

Meetup groups are also a wonderful way to meet new people, most of whom will be either native speakers or lovers of language so either way, you’ll have lots in common.

Be sure to do a little follow up work after the session. If there were any phrases you stumbled upon or words you wish you had known mid-conversation, look them up and write them down once you get home so that you’ll know them for next time.

2. Radio

This is one of my favourite methods of improving my language skills. I’m pretty busy. I have two young children, a job and I’m running a business. I also like to work out and spend time with my husband. Anything that I can do to improve my Italian while also getting other stuff done, like the cooking or ironing, is a bonus! Listening to the radio is easy to fit into my life when I don’t have time for a sit-down study session.

I like my rock music so my favourite station is virginradio.it. As far as expanding my vocabulary goes, it’s perhaps not the best study method but I find it really useful for reminding me of words and phrases that have become lost over the years. I like to picture my brain as a filing cabinet. All of the Italian I have ever learnt is still in the cabinet but, through lack of use, the files have become neglected at the very back of the drawer. I find listening to the radio helps me bring those files further forward so that when the time comes to write something down or have a conversation, I have quicker access to the Italian words I need.

You can listen to live radio shows and Virgin Radio Italy has some interesting podcasts for you to enjoy while you’re cooking dinner. And if you want to expand the learning when you have more time, scribble down any phrases you don’t understand and look them up later. If you’re not such a fan of rock music, or you’re studying a different language, why don’t you ask one of the attendees at that meetup group you’re definitely going to explore, for their radio station recommendations?

3.TV

Remember that filing cabinet in your brain I talked about in tip number two? Watching foreign language TV programmes or films, whether with subtitles or without, is another excellent way of moving some of those neglected files to a more prominent position in the drawer. Personally, I prefer watching the subtitled version. As a budding translator, I like to see how the translation of each phrase was tackled and judge whether I would have come up with the same solution or something a little different.

This is also a great way to help you if you’re lacking motivation in your language learning. I’ve recently been watching the Rai TV detective series, Young Montalbano and the breathtaking scenery makes me want to grab my passport and my dictionary (the only two travel essentials as far as I’m concerned) and catch the next flight out to Sicily!

The Sky arts channel is another great way for sneaking in a bit of listening practice. I’ve recently watched programmes on Dante’s Inferno and Michelangelo’s Pietà and both shows featured Italian experts, speaking in their native tongue, which introduced me to some interesting new vocabulary.

4.Newspapers

No matter how frantic my day, I always seem to find ten minutes for scrolling through my Facebook feed. To ensure I don’t get bogged down in what my friends ate for dinner or whether their kids are scribbling on the walls again, I’ve made sure that I follow a decent number of Italian newspapers and magazines. If you can carve out some time in your day, it’s worth doing the same and sitting down with your dictionary and a notebook . As soon as you come across an article that you think you might find interesting, whether it’s on current affairs or a piece about the latest fad diet, open it and start reading. Read through once to get the gist and then delve deeper. Write down every unfamiliar word and its definition and look over your new words at the end of the day, at the end of the week and any time you get the chance. You could even trying writing a response to the article in your notebook and get a native speaker (see, there’s a use for that meetup group again…) to read over it and help you correct any errors.

5.Back to basics

Remember at the start of this post I stated that duolingo and basic grammar books weren’t at the right level for you? Well, now that you’ve spent your time on the methods listed above, it certainly won’t hurt your practice to go back down a level. I don’t know about you, but I find that sometimes, when you’re focusing on developing more advanced phrases and vocab, you can neglect the basics. This is my Friday night learning strategy. I’m exhausted after the working week and my brain isn’t as sharp as it was on Monday morning but I still want to do a little something to advance my fluency. Even just ten minutes on my duolingo app or working through some vocabulary memorisation with Memrise is enough to switch on my brain’s ‘Italian mode’, making sure that filing cabinet I keep banging on about stays unlocked and accessible.

Happy studying!