Most people will agree that the best way to master a language is an immersion in a country where this language is spoken. Is there a more effective way to perfect one’s French than going to France for a few months?
But how do you get better when you don’t have the time or means to travel for an extended period of time?
I faced this issue last year, when I decided I wanted to spice up my Spanish before a ten-day solo trip to Madrid and Bilbao, Spain.
I had decent basics, but I wanted to be able to have everyday interactions without having to speak a single word of English.
So, I saved 30 minutes per day to work on grammar and conjugation during my lunch break, but I needed to find ways to really practice, by speaking and listening to the language in a similar way to what I would be doing during my trip.
Fortunately, there are a few actions anyone can take to incorporate more of the language they are trying to master into their daily life.
Here are the tips I used to recreate an immersion at home, plus ideas to practice and do exercises for people who already have a basic level of understanding and speaking and want to improve their language skills at home.
1. Listening and watching content only in your desired language
The first step to mimic an immersion is to consume content in that language every day, just like you would be if you were in another country. How about challenging yourself to start a new series in German? You can also find a new podcast to listen to while commuting to work.
Don’t worry about understanding everything. The point is to get used to hearing the language and recognize some words and structures. Eventually, your comprehension will get better.
2. Reading different types of texts
For a lot of people, reading comprehension is easier than oral comprehension. Try and find resources in your desired language: news, recipes, specific articles.
I used to read lifestyle content in Spanish or the news in Portuguese to help me with comprehension. Spending time deciphering a text is a lot easier if you enjoy the theme. For example, you could read Harry Potter related content in Arabic or a tutorial on weaving in Japanese if it can motivate you to read more.
3. Changing language on your devices
If you feel confident enough about your ability to switch back to your native language if needed, change the language settings on your computer or smartphone. This would be a good way to learn technical and specialized words that you would not necessarily find in books but would be useful in a day-to-day conversation.
I have had my GPS set on Portuguese for a long time now. After a few weeks, I had learned all the vocabulary necessary to understand an itinerary or give directions.
4. Writing your grocery list in that language
Every time you have to write down something, do it in your desired language instead of your mother tongue. That way, you will enrich your vocabulary with common words that you would have to use on a daily basis if you lived in another country.
Writing your grocery list, making web searches, taking notes and writing down ideas… these are all opportunities to exercise your language skills.
5. Talking to yourself
Narrating your life out loud could help you pinpoint words you don’t know and practice pronunciation. When following a recipe, explain to yourself what you have to do in the language you are learning.
If you don’t feel comfortable speaking audibly, try thinking in the other language. For example, next time you start to plan your week in your head, make a conscious effort to do so in Mandarin Chinese.
6. Using songs at your advantage
Singing along to your favorite songs in a different language can be an opportunity to practice pronunciation with a direct example, as well as learning new words and expressions. It is also a fun way to train and memorize vocabulary.
Moreover, culture and language are closely connected: learning a language will not be complete without learning about the culture, and music is part of it!
7. Writing down words you don’t understand
I would recommend taking notes in a specific notebook (or create notes in your smartphone) and writing down all the words that you don’t understand or don’t know how to say. That way, you can look them up later and build a custom vocabulary list that will be useful to you. Maybe try and form thematic lists, which will help you review the words more easily and learn more effectively.
8. Finding a language buddy
Is there a friend you can text in Romanian with? Perhaps you know people that are multilingual or have a really good level in a particular language. Chances are they will be happy to text or even speak in another language with you. Just ask.
Nevertheless, you don’t have to exchange with someone that already masters your desired language, sharing your experience and progress with someone trying to improve the same language that you do could help too, and make you feel more at ease if you are afraid to talk to a fluent speaker.
At the start, you may feel like you are struggling to understand or communicate, but don’t give up! I remember that when I first started watching movies in Spanish, I would only understand part of the sentences, but now I don’t need subtitles anymore.
Keep in mind that learning a new language requires time and dedication. The best way to improve your skills is to work at it regularly, even if you can only free half an hour a day available in your schedule. Little by little, you will see your vocabulary expand, your pronunciation improve and you will be closer and closer to mastering a new language.