10 tips for learning a language from home

Learn languages April 21, 2020

Isn’t it amazing how contrary we human beings can be? We all pretty much seem to live in a constant state of anxiety over how little time we have for tasks and activities other than studies, work, family and other obligations. And yet now we’re being forced to actually slow down and take some time off, we’re panicking.

Well, how about we give ourselves a (mental) slap in the face and snap out of our winging? This is the perfect time to get creative and either catch up with or continue striving towards all those goals we had set for ourselves before this began – one of which is definitely learning a new language.

It may seem like a ludicrous idea – learning a language from home? Without a teacher? With no native speakers around? Within four walls?

Well, you’d be surprised! We know the first things that comes to mind are frustrating grammar exercises and endless vocab lists. Forget about that, you have so much at hand to really boost your language skills from home!

Here’s how:

1.- Keep doing activities you enjoy… just do them in your target language

It’s a fact: whatever new skill you’re learning, there’s a strong chance you’ll feel some adversity towards it if, in order to acquire it, you have to do stuff you don’t enjoy.

So, if you’re not an avid reader, there’s absolutely no point in now suddenly deciding you’re going to read all the French  classics, say – this will only lead to boredom and frustration. But if, on the other hand, you’re a big music fan, then why not switch over to music in your target language?

Again, it doesn’t make sense to now start listening to country music so as to practise your English if you actually hate it and are more into rock, for instance. Google will provide you with plenty of foreign bands and artists of your preferred genre. The same goes for films or podcasts – you know the kind you like, you just need to find the equivalent in the language you’re learning!

By doing this, you won’t only be improving your language skills without really feeling you’re making an effort, you’ll also be creating life-long enjoyable habits.

2.- Jazz up your daily chores with some fun learning

One of the uncomfortable side-effects of having to stay at home is that you suddenly realize how much stuff there is to be done around the house – cleaning, laundry, tidying up… And don’t even get me started on this when there are kids in the house!

So, since you’re going to have to do all this boring stuff anyway, why don’t you try to be extra productive by accompanying it with a fun language activity?

That Spanish podcast you picked (following our advice above, remember?) would be perfect to take your mind off how annoying making your bed is. Likewise, scrubbing your bathroom floor can only be made better by you belting out the chorus for that song in Korean you’ve just discovered – get your neighbours to join in and make a karaoke out of it!

3.- Practise your speaking and comprehension skills

Language skills have traditionally been divided into 4: reading, writing, listening and speaking. The two former ones probably seem easier to practise from home, while both the latter ones may be more challenging.

Don’t forget there are plenty of people all over the world who are in your exact same situation, which can only mean one thing: online language exchanges! If you already have a friend who’s a native speaker of your target language, get them on Skype (or your preferred tool) and offer your own language in exchange! A simple Google search will also lead you to several platforms that are full of interesting individuals with your same needs.

4.- Enroll in an online language course

Even before the Coronavirus outbreak, online lessons have seen an increase in popularity, which is why many schools and teachers have adopted this learning modality. Given the current situation, more and more institutions offer very fairly-priced online sessions – you’ll find their use of tools and other technology recreate excellent face-to-face lessons and many of them even give a choice between group or individual sessions.

5.- Bring language immersion into your home

You’ve probably heard it often: the best way to learn a language is to travel abroad and immerse yourself in the language and culture. Well, since you can’t do that at the moment, recreate that situation in your home!

It’s as simple as surrounding yourself with the language: create flashcards and place them around the house so you see them often, change your language settings on your phone and your laptop, or make your cooking international by preparing foreign dishes from recipes in your target language! 

6.- Find a study buddy

This is probably not new to you but having someone to share motivation with goes a long way in ensuring you actually get things done. You may want to pitch the idea to a family member or a flatmate and get them to join the challenge.

Aside from actively setting up language-related activities together and encouraging each other, you can even turn it into a competition! Who can come up with more sentences containing 3 new words you’ve learned on a given day? Who can write a text using that verb tense you’ve just been studying?

7.- Set an aim for each learning session

Even if you’re not actually sitting down for some full-on studying, try to give yourself a goal for each little action you take towards your learning. It could be as simple as understanding the gist of something you’ve listened to on a particular topic, or identifying 5 words you think you’ll find useful at some point in that book you’re reading.

Beware though – there’s no point in being overly ambitious. In fact, this often results in disappointment and discouragement so keep your aims simple and achievable by being realistic about the stage you’re at in your learning process.

8.- Don’t learn pointless stuff

Rather than focusing on a specific topic and vocabulary or a particular grammar point, it may be best to have a think about what you actually need to communicate. Focus on common situations: what do I say when I don’t understand? How do I ask for my change at the supermarket?

Common conversation phrases like “I think so” are more useful than things like “rooms in my house” or “things in my pencil case”.

9.- Don’t rely on willpower

It’s a fact: most of us lack willpower. Unfortunately, we tend to make the same mistake again and again – we start of a new challenge thinking that enthusiasm is enough to keep us on track only to run out of steam a few days later.

Plan ahead: if you’ve reached this point, it means you’ve just taken in a fair amount of ideas on how to learn a language from home. Don’t just think “Oh wow, yeah, I’ll definitely do that”, but rather actually think about which ones are realistic for you. Jot them down and find a daily time slot for them.

10: Don’t just dream about your next language course abroad, plan for it!

The world hasn’t stopped, it’s just come to a standstill that will soon be over. Dreaming of the bright future ahead is fine, but you can also take it a step further by actually planning for it because – and we cannot stress this enough – we have so much to look forward to!

So, in the meantime, let’s make sure we’re not only fully ready for embracing and enjoying normality. Let’s make the most of this down time to carefully plan for the things we love and will be able to do again – in your case, after having worked hard on your language skills during isolation, why not reward yourself with a language course in the destination of your choice? Need some inspiration?

Gimme ideas!

By Julia Hoyas

What do you think?