They told you language learning was fun. But there is so much vocabulary to learn and the intricacies of grammar make your brain overheat. It’s time for a break.
Studies show that we absorb a lot of new information unconsciously—why not capitalise on this fact? This post will show you a few methods to relax while still working on your language skills. Let’s bring back the fun to learning!
Enjoy a video game
If you are a fan of video games you can easily turn them into language learning experiences.
One simple way to do it is to change the language of a game that you like to play. Since you already remember where different settings are it won't be so hard to navigate through it in a foreign language. During your regular playing session, you will learn new vocabulary.
What other benefits lie in playing games in a foreign language? Story-based games involve authentic dialogues, which can help you practice your reading and conversations skills. Although, of course, conversations about trading armour may not be something you are likely to encounter in real life...
First person shooter games, on the other hand, will force you to practice the language dynamically. To corroborate the benefits of game playing, a Swedish study of boys regularly playing World of Worcraft demonstrated that the game boosted not only their vocab skills in English, but also confidence in using the language.
In many games, you can also interact with other foreign language players—you work together to accomplish a goal. In this kind of task-based learning you focusing on the game’s mission while language learning becomes a tool that helps you achieve it.
You will go to great lengths to communicate your message to a game partner! When the game's objective is at stake you will lose your fear of making mistakes.
In video games we will inevitably fail at some point. Failing in games is less painful than making mistakes in exercises or in a conversation. It will require you to redo a part of the game which will provide a perfect opportunity to revise what you learned. Wanting to advance in the game is an excellent motivation to go back and to continue language learning. But be careful, you may get addicted to studying this way!
Apart from utilising games you already play, there are a number of games designed specifically to work on your vocabulary, grammar or conversation skills. DigitalDialects offers basic games to help with vocabulary skills in over 80 languages. Influent allows you to interact with objects in a 3D world and learn over 15 different languages including Japanese and Russian. 12Speak! has a few fun vocabulary games. If you come across another good resource, let us know!
Sing at a karaoke
Got friends who speak the language you're learning? Do a night out at a karaoke! You'll have loads of fun, and, after a few drinks and guilty pleasures, get over the embarrassment of using your target language, no matter the mistakes you're making.
If your friends are native speakers, make sure to listen carefully to the way they pronounce different words, and the way they express their emotions when singing. Our behaviour gets amplified in a karaoke, which makes it a great setting to get a better feel of natural behaviour that will help you fit in among the locals.
Do you have a favourite song from a Disney film? Many people know Disney songs by heart and trying to sing one in a foreign language can be a perfect start to a karaoke night. Familiar with the film, you will know the underlying emotions of the track and the gist of the lyrics. It will make it easier to connect with the tune and… with your fellow Disney fans!
Watch a flick
Though our definitions of what good cinema is may vary, we all love films. Getting lost in a story after a whole day of hard work is a good escape from reality. The good news is that it’s not so hard to make this experience beneficial for our learning.
Films in language you’re learning will illustrate a lot of cultural aspects you might not know about. For example, watching a Spanish film set around Easter, you will be introduced to the dishes and customs of that time of year. Even if you watch these films with subtitles in your native tongue, they remain a valuable cultural resource. Research the top films of the last year in the language you’re learning and get watching!
With the subtitles on, you will still hear the language, and get used to it’s rhythm and sounds. You will also end up picking up words or phrases that you’ve learned elsewhere, consolidating them in your memory.
If you’re feeling a bit more confident, swap the subtitles in your mother tongue to the original language. This will confront you with both written and aural input in the foreign language. If you can’t hear what’s being said, you can read it. If you still find it hard to understand, you can choose to pause the film and make a note of the phrase or word to look it up later. This will inevitably break the flow of the story, so if the word isn’t absolutely crucial for understanding the plot you can simply… ignore it! That’s right, the perfectionists among you have to learn to live without 100% understanding. As long as you get the basic gist of the dialogues, you’ll be fine.
What’s the last thing you can do? Watch with no subtitles at all. Once you’re more comfortable with the language you should be able to follow a plot of a simple film. If you’re up for adding extra practice, try to shadow the characters repeating your favourite phrases with them.
- In the beginning choose films with plots that are easy to follow, simple action films or chick flicks will be perfect.
- Why not start with shorts? If you fear a 120 Japanese epic will be too much for you, Vimeo is full of foreign language short films.
- Looking for specific film recommendations for your language? Ask your language partner on HelloTalk!
Play a word game
Grab a bunch of friends who learn the same language, a bottle of wine (erm, or coke, if you’re below 18!) and have a fun, old-school evening playing word games! Why not set small prizes for the winners?
Here are a couple of suggestions for word games you can play.
1. Choose a long word in the language you’re learning (the longer the better—you may have to look up some suggestions online). In three minutes everyone has to write as many words as they can composed only from the letters contained in the initial long word. For example, if you chose.
2. Adapt the Japanese game shitori for the language you’re learning. In shitori you create a “word snake” writing a word that starts with the kana the previous one has ended with. For languages with alphabetic systems you will of course base this on letters rather than kana.
If you are a more advanced student, you may want to limit the categories of words, otherwise the game becomes too easy! You can also divide yourselves into teams and set a timer. The team whose “word snake” contains more words wins.
Act it out
If the thought of vocab games is not appealing, why not work on your acting skills and play charades? This one is guaranteed to produce more than a handful of laughs! Being comfortable with making a fool of ourselves is a skill that we all need to practice in language learning.
In case you’re not familiar with the game, in charades you have to make the other players guess the word or phrase without talking. You have two options: you can either draw or act. If you want, you can also set a timer to prevent being stuck with someone trying to enact a part of a Medieval French poem for 10 minutes.
Depending on the level of your knowledge of the language you can establish different categories of words to present. For beginners those can be simple nouns or basic sentences, such as “they aren’t eating apples”—trust me it will be hard enough for the players to retrieve the necessary grammar structures to say it correctly. On higher levels you can experiment with more abstract concepts: movie titles, sayings, or even famous characters.
Regardless of your level, the basic rule of the game should be to use as little a your native language as possible.
Be careful, this game can produce some heated discussions about the correct grammar of sentences or the existence of particular sayings!
In case you weren’t a fan of spending time in the kitchen, let me tell you: preparing a meal doesn’t have to be time-consuming or laborious. What you need is a group of friends and a bottle of wine (erm… again, yes wine seems to facilitate a lot of things). Oh, and a recipe entirely in the foreign language you’re learning.
To enhance the cultural aspect of the event, pick a recipe of a traditional dish. Now, rather than just reading, translating and preparing the recipe, you can add a few extra language exercises to the process. To make it run smoothly, one person will have to become the language moderator. They won’t help you cooking, but will prevent your phones from getting dirty with tomato sauce, flour and cheese …. (clearly someone here has pizza on their mind).
Choose one person to read out the recipe’s instructions—they will probably be in the imperative. Each cooking participant will have to transform the sentence into a specific grammatical form. For example, if the recipe says “chop the onions”:
Person 1 will say: I chop the onions.
Person 2: He chops the onions.
Person 3: We chop the onions.
This way you will practice saying and hearing all the different forms of the verbs.
As you’re cooking, try to describe to each other what you are doing at each point:
- “I’m looking for the knife”
- “He is adding pepper to the sauce.”
- “The sauce is burning my arm!”
If you don’t know a word, ask the moderator to look it up for you. Well, with the last one, I give you permission to shout it out in your mother tongue.
Cooking together is a great way of building up friendships and, at the end, you can sit down and enjoy what you have prepared and play a word game. Unless you already had too much wine and can’t focus… then better head out for a karaoke.
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