This is a guest post by Jesse Reyes at SpanishHackers.coms
My first foray into foreign languages was learning Spanish. When I decided to learn the language I had no idea where to start. I found a lot of information online. Some was very helpful, some wasn’t. I hope this article will help you on your language journey whether you’re learning Spanish or any other language.
There is always a lot of talk about immersion in the language learning world. Until fairly recently the only way to immerse yourself in a foreign language was to live somewhere where that language is widely spoken. With the advent of the internet, and a plethora of online language learning tools, a sort of “digital” immersion is now possible. Even though nothing will be able to replace real world immersion, digital immersion is arguably one of the next best things.
When people talk about digital immersion they almost always mention online tools such as online video classes, foreign movies or books, and even free online courses and apps. The reason people love to talk about these things is because they work. In this article though, I thought I would deviate from the norm a little and share four forms of media that are often overlooked by language learners, and how they can help you learn your target language.
Music can be a great source of what language educators call “comprehensible input”. Comprehensible input is basically anything in your target language that you hear ( or sometimes read) and can make sense of. Many think that comprehensible input is a very important part of learning a new language. Music with lyrics are a great and fun way to achieve this.
However, if you’re listening to your target language’s music like I do (in the car, on a run, or while you clean your room), you’re likely to miss out on the lyrics. Inevitably, you subconsciously focus on the beat and melody. Think about it, how many songs do you really know all the lyrics to? There are some sure, but you probably don’t know all the lyrics of the music you listen to. So when we listen to music in a foreign language, unless we make a conscious effort to pay attention to the lyrics we’re likely to get lost in the beat and melody.
But music can still be a great tool for learning a new language, especially in the area of pronunciation. If you come across a song in your target language that you like, then learn to sing it! As you learn the song do your best to imitate the singer in the recording. The important thing here is not to sing well but to develop your pronunciation. If you play the original song, record yourself singing, and then play yourself back with the original you will be able to hear if there’s a difference in your accent. Do this enough and you will start to notice your accent getting closer to native speakers.
2- TV shows
Most people will recommend foreign TV shows and movies in the same breath when talking about language learning, but I would argue that TV shows are a better tool than movies, especially for beginners. Movie narratives are longer, often unpredictable, and usually more complex. This can make the story hard to follow. TV shows on the other hand are short, more simple, and their episodic nature makes them much more predictable. This makes it much easier to pick up contextual clues that can help you make sense of what you’re watching.
TV shows are great ways to practice listening, and even better still at helping practice vocabulary with context. You can watch shows with english subtitles or with subtitles in your target language, but I recommend you watch shows without any subtitles all together. If you are a beginner or intermediate student of the language then it might be a good idea to read the synopsis of each episode before you watch it. This way you’ll have a better idea of what’s going on and be able to better pick up context. If you keep up with a series you will start to pick up on patterns in phrases and words.
Another thing you can try is to watch your shows with a notebook in hand and simply write down words or phrases that stick out to you, so you can look them up later. You don’t have to write every word you don’t know. Focus on the words and phrases that are either really common, really useful, or just memorable to you. From a 30 minute episode you could have a whole vocabulary list!
Another overlooked language learning tool is the audiobook. This tool is particularly useful for upper beginners and intermediate students. When I first started learning a foreign language one of my biggest struggles was disconnecting my native English pronunciations from Spanish words. I always mispronounced Spanish words that were similar to English. Anytime I came across a Spanish word that I had trouble pronouncing I was always more apt to forget it. It was very frustrating to read a text and then have no idea what a new word sounded like. This is where audiobooks can be a saving grace. When you can read along with a native speaker you automatically begin to correct all kinds of mistakes so you don’t have to experience the frustrations I did.
One form of media that I think is largely underrated in the language learning world is comics. Aside from the fact that comics are fun to read, the pictures give you contextual clues making new words easier to understand. Also comics tend to use more conversational dialogue than books, you can easily pick up common phrases. You’re likely to run into expressions and figures of speech that you are unlikely to find in a grammar book or lesson. Many times these expressions and idioms won’t translate well into your native language but because you have the added help of pictures and context you start to get a feel of how each expression is used. The only downside to using comics is that depending on which language you’re learning they may be hard to fine.
Any one of these four tools will help you reach the next level of your language learning journey. You may find you like one more than another, so try out as many as you like. The important thing is that you stay engaged with your new language, using it in ways that stretch your abilities but at the same time don’t feel like rote learning. Ultimately your goal shouldn’t be to just learn a language, you want to live it!
Image credirt: intriga