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.
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.
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.
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).