I’ve always had an interest in languages, which I wouldn’t say is usual of my monolingual social and family background. I grew up in a small South Devon seaside town. All of my family are English (and 90% of them all live in the same county I was born in so they’re very close by – as in no more than 6 miles away close by), we never went on holidays abroad because we couldn’t afford them and none of us had passports so instead we owned the ‘staycation.’ So there was nothing to immediately pull me towards learning another language. Although maybe that’s it? I’ve never really been exposed to anything other than what is comfortable so perhaps this is my way of branching and exploring?
When I was seven years old I had my first taster lesson of French at school. We learnt things like counting to ten and introducing ourselves and the usual things most primary school children know. This is where it all started and I’ve been learning French ever since. Unfortunately, mainly due to the appalling English school system when it comes to learning languages, I am not fluent yet – despite over 12 years of French. However now I’m at university, and learning language under the standardised European Language Framework, I’m getting so much better and really enjoying learning again.
Over my 12 years of foreign language education I’ve picked up some things that have helped with my learning and are a great idea if you want to maintain and/or improve your language ability. In the last 6 months I’ve been learning Italian too so I am now actively learning two languages in addition to my own. Here’s what I’ve found has helped me.
Yep. Harry Potter in French, people! I guess this will work with any book you know well. Pick something that you won’t have to worry too much about trying to follow the story so you can instead focus on the new words and phrases you’re leaning. Reading the translation of Harry Potter in whatever language you are learning is such a good way to boost vocabulary in another language – it also gives you the tools to have a conversation about one of your favourite things in a different language, so BONUS. What’s also nice is you can read books that you know in their original language. Many of us will have heard Le Petit Prince, or at least the English translation of it, so why not read it in the original language?! I have a full set of French copies of Harry Potter and the Italian set are sat in my Amazon basket ready for when I reach that stage of my language education.
Same principle applies. Pick a Disney film and watch it in the language you’re learning. The DisneyLife app is a really great starting place for this. It contains many popular animated and live action Disney films as well as the Disney Channel shows so there’s everything you could want and more in terms of entertainment here. The films seem to be available in five different languages – English, French, German, Italian and Spanish so there’s loads to look at here. Of course you can always bust out your DVD copies and see which alternate languages are available to use there. Either way, Disney songs in a foreign language make great shower songs once you’ve got the hang of them and this way you’re connecting with the language a little bit each day too. There are plenty of websites you can use to find the lyrics so you can read along to the song and see what you’re hearing allowing you to match pronunciations and gain extra vocabulary at the same time.
Or just take a trip to Disneyland Paris if you’re learning French. I totally did that.
Bought a translation of a book you love and/or Harry Potter?? Great, find the audiobook of the same book and read along (as far as is possible) with the narrator. Again this means you can build vocabulary and match pronunciations. Find a podcast in your target language. Watch the national news channel of a country that speaks your target language. Any kind of auditory medium you can put on in the background, or whilst you’re on the train to work, or whilst you’re driving, or something to replace your evening crappy tv habit. It’s all good stuff. Learning language is about exposure and immersing yourself in the language. So do that. Increase your language exposure and you’ll start to see improvements.
Find a tv show that is in the language you’re learning. My Spanish friend learnt English by watching Game of Thrones and Friends whilst a Belgian colleague of mine taught herself English watching the Harry Potter films. It today’s day and age there is so much media readily available to us and all it takes to access it is a quick Google search. Use it.
I personally use these things alongside formal language lessons so I’m not sure how effective these are on their own without being taught the grammatical tools which allow me to understand what I’m reading or listening to. However, I think everyone should give it a go anyway because only good can come from broadening our horizons and learning more about our neighbours, friends and other cultures around the globe.