One of the most rewarding moments when you’re learning a new language is the first time you have an organic conversation with a native speaker. It might be with a coworker, the barista at a cafe when you’re traveling in a different country, or a new neighbor. Moments like these are what make all the vocabulary memorization and headache-inducing grammatical minutiae feel completely worth it. They leave you buzzing with renewed enthusiasm and make it feel like fluency is really within reach.
The restrictions imposed by the coronavirus in the last few months have led many of us to pick up new hobbies or try learning new life skills, like a second or third language. While it’s totally possible to learn a new language from home, it’s not without challenges that can leave most of us feeling frustrated and ready to give up. Your dedicated 30 minutes of daily practice might start to look like 20, then 10, until eventually you’re just ignoring your DuoLingo reminders entirely.
It makes sense - we’re all in need of more variety lately, and learning something new can start to feel repetitive and mundane if you rely on the same apps and structured exercises. Combine that with the fact that it’s difficult to find the small, motivational moments that keep you feeling excited about the progress you’ve made. We’re all staying inside, limiting our connection with others, and certainly not traveling to new places across the world where we can really flex our new skills.
So what are some ways you can stay motivated and keep advancing your skills? Here are some things you can do right now to add more variety into your daily practice and refuel your enthusiasm about learning.
Find a penpal
Remember penpals? Getting mail as a kid felt like the most exciting thing in the world, especially if you were writing to someone far away. We might not be able to channel that exact feeling now, but when was the last time you got something in the mail besides a bill, a catalog that immediately meets the recycling bin, or something addressed to “Current Resident?”
A penpal is a novel way to connect with someone new during a time when that feels almost impossible. There are a ton of people around the world who are looking for opportunities to connect with new people and improve their language skills in the process.
If snail mail isn’t your thing, bring it into the 1990s and email instead. Exchanging longer emails to someone as a means of getting to know each other feels very You've Got Mail, which is an added nostalgic bonus.
Try InterPals, Conversation Exchange, or Global Pen Friends.
Get active with online communities
If you’re a Redditer, you probably already know that there are a variety of subreddits for language learning. Subreddits like Learn Spanish can provide elements of a typical language class that you often miss out on when learning solo - learning from other people’s questions.
When you’re ready, try spending more time on subreddits where the content is primarily in your learner language. Here’s a thorough list of Spanish language subreddits and a handful of French ones. Adding this as part of your language learning routine will help you learn how people actually converse, rather than just focusing purely on grammatical accuracy.
Plus, understanding jokes in your second language can definitely provide the renewed motivation that we’re chasing after. Maybe 2020 is the year you become proficient in foreign language memes.
Have dedicated practice hours with a family member or friend
We’ve heard from a large number of students recently that they’re learning a second language to communicate with a family member or friend in their native language. If that’s you too, that’s exciting! You have someone to practice with who won’t judge you for any grammatical missteps, and who will feel comfortable correcting you to help you learn faster.
The key to getting the most out of these interactions is to schedule regular appointments to practice with them. You might still feel nervous about speaking with someone who’s fluent, so if they jump in when you’re not in the right mindset, it can be tempting to balk and switch to English. Making it a more formal date will help you prepare and hold you accountable.
Learn through your hobbies
The more relatable, relevant, and interesting you find the content you’re learning, the more likely you are to remember it and be able to recall it later. Seeking out content that’s specifically about your hobbies (anyone else get super into roller skating lately?) is a great way to improve your language skills.
Learn niche vocabulary, watch YouTube videos, read articles, and follow accounts on social media that are in your second language. This is also a great way to digitally meet people who are interested in the same things you are, and it arms you with interesting things to talk to people about in your second language. No more need to panic when someone asks “What do you do in your free time?”
Watch dubbed shows
Have you tried watching a dubbed TV show that you’ve already seen in English?
Watching content that’s original to the language you’re learning is a great way to practice, but dubbed shows can help you learn the nuances of translation and how sentences are phrased differently in order to convey the same meaning. If you’re learning Spanish and you’re a big Simpsons fan, try watching some dubbed episodes and see how the jokes have been changed to resonate with a different audience.
Check out this long list of TV shows with audio in other languages, all available on Netflix.
Learn with a friend
Of course, you can also get some great practice and stay motivated by committing to learn with a friend. Take an online group course together, or for more flexibility, subscribe for private lessons and schedule time to review material and chat with each other. (You’ll both get half off a month of private lessons at Fluent City when you refer a friend as part of our Friends and Family program.)
As additional practice, try reading the same book and discussing it after in your learner language. Or spend all your time chatting about the great trips you’ll take together once you’re able to again.
No matter how excited you were when you started learning a language, it’s easy for a new routine to begin to feel stale if you don’t find moments that renew your enthusiasm. Mix up the way you practice daily and find new, socially distant ways to connect with those around you. Understanding and communicating with new people, especially in a different language, is a great way to stay connected during a time when we all feel a little isolated.
Which of these will you try out? Let us know in the comments and tell us how it goes!