Unusual Ways to Learn a Language


Most of us learn a foreign language in school, or with private lessons, or even using audio CD’s. But sometimes, that just won’t cut it. If you’re having trouble getting started, or need help honing your skills, maybe you should take a different approach. Here are some unusual ways to learn a language that may work for you:


- Let the supermarket be your classroom. If you live in a foreign country, the next time you head to the supermarket, think of it not just as a chance to pick up toilet paper, but a learning experience! Use the writing on packaging to help you learn new nouns and adjectives, as well as to remember genders. You can stroll through one aisle, take in some words, and then come back later and quiz yourself to see if you remember them. And of course, if you buy anything, you can have a mini-dialogue with the cashier!


- Music as a teacher. Lots of people I know have gotten better in a foreign language by listening to music in that language. Of course, this isn’t the only thing you should do; no language is always sung. But this technique is a great way to get involved in a text and learn new words. Plus, putting a word or phrase to a melody can help you remember it better.


- The web…and lists about cats…to the rescue! There are a lot of traditional-style language learning resources online (and many of them are free!), but if you’re looking for something a little offbeat, of course you can find that on the internet, too. For example, Duolingo is a site that lets you learn another language by translating documents. If it sounds familiar, that’s because it was recently in the news as the service being used by mega-popular website Buzzfeed. Duolingo users can translate Buzzfeed’s English-language articles into French, Spanish, or Brazilian Portuguese. Each translated text is then reviewed, and, if all’s well, published. If the typical Buzzfeed offering of lists about cats sounds like child’s play to translate, be wary – Buzzfeed authors’ writing is full of slang and humor, which aren’t always easy to change into another language.


Hit the (comic) books! Comic books have compelling storylines and striking visuals that often help with context. If you know a series well, see if you can get issues you’ve already read in the language you want to study. Or just pick up a comic for younger readers and see if you can understand what’s going on.


Immerse yourself. It’s often said the best way to learn a language is by being immersed in it. If you live in a foreign country, try as much as possible to avoid speaking your native language. Sign up for activities with locals. Watch TV. If you don’t live abroad, look up language immersion programs. There are a lot out there, including many that require traveling to another country. If your budget won’t allow for that, though, don’t despair! Finding a native speaker in your area for conversation sessions is also a great way to beef up your language game. ….Of course, if you’re reading this, you probably already know about the power of conversation exchange. Taking part in a Franglish bar night is not only a great way to improve your language skills; it’s also a lot of fun.


Learn while you sleep. This technique is something you’ve probably heard of before. The idea is that the unconscious mind will absorb a language more easily. Why not find some recordings adapted for this and give it a shot?


Go home with someone. Whether it’s a homestay during a study abroad experience, or, as this site suggests, couchsurfing, staying with native speakers who can only communicate in their native language will make you learn pretty quickly!



It’s easier to learn a language if you feel excited about it. If you’re blocked, trying one of these unusual techniques may suddenly make it a lot easier for you to master your foreign language of choice. Good luck!


Alysa is an American writer and language tutor. She lives in Paris with her antique-sword-collecting husband and their dog-like cat. Among other things, she loves language, travel, and weird historic events.

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