As travelling the world becomes ever cheaper and easier, the idea that the “world is your oyster” has never been more true. But while getting to a new destination to explore is increasingly straightforward, being able to communicate once you’re there is a little more complicated.
While you could try to rely on Google Translate to read every menu for you and call out directions to taxi drivers, it’s generally considered both more respectful and a bit more useful to actually get to grips with new languages yourself. For anyone looking to travel long-term, or even relocate permanently, picking up a new language may well be non-negotiable.
If you’re looking to learn a new language but are struggling to know where to start, you’ll be pleased to know there are plenty of different ways in which apps and other digital services can support you in your quest for knowledge. Whether you want to nail that certain je ne sais quoi en Français or fine tune your skills in labellissima lingua Italiana, here are a few places to begin.
Language gamification apps
People sometimes turn their noses up at the idea that you can learn a language simply by fiddling with an app on your phone, but a lot of research and knowledge is poured into apps like Duolingo and Memrise. App language courses are often created by native language speakers, and in the case of Duolingo it’s possible to practise everything from beginner to advanced-level linguistics without having to pay for the privilege.
Gamifying language learning is a great way to stay motivated, and having a free app rather than a stack of course books and CDs to get through can make the task feel much less daunting. Whether you’re competing against a friend to see who can score the most points for practise in a day, or simply making a promise to spend 15 minutes out of every lunch hour testing yourself with digital flashcards and tests, apps can help.
There are plenty of options out there to choose from, so if you don’t get on with your first pick, keep looking until you find something that fits. Looking for apps which give you the opportunity to converse digitally with native language speakers is a particularly good idea as it allows you to test your knowledge outside of sometimes predictable AI conversation.
If you’re still getting to grips with the basics of a new language, the idea of trying to get through a whole audiobook can seem ridiculous. It’s easy to put something on and almost immediately stop paying full attention because you don’t understand what’s being said, or to get quickly distracted by something else.
The good news is that with a bit of help from technology, you can use audiobooks as an effective language-learning tool. Again turning to apps, consider things like Beelinguapp – where you can listen to your book of choice while seeing the text on your screen in both your native language and the new one you’re trying to learn.
Even if initially, you aren’t 100% sure of certain words and sentences, listening to audiobooks is a great way to familiarise yourself with the intonation of a new language and correct pronunciations of certain words. Start off with a book you’ve already read, so that you already have an idea of what is happening and can connect the dots between one language and the other more easily.
International streaming services
Much like working your way through books in new languages, tuning in to international TV shows and movies is a great way to enjoy learning while picking up a more natural style of speaking. There’s plenty of international entertainment on sites like YouTube and Vimeo, but you can also look to global streaming services to find things that are at the right linguistic level. All you need is a little help.
For example, if you’re hoping to access Spanish programming and find that much of the content is geo-restricted, you can use a VPN app to trick different services into thinking you’re located in Spain. This would mean you now have access to Spanish-language movies and television shows that would otherwise not be available to you.
A key tip is not to be tempted to simply put on foreign language audio with your own language subtitled over the top – all that will happen is that you’ll rely on reading the text and not fully pay attention to what you’re hearing. A better tactic is to start with foreign subtitles over the language you already speak, before moving on to having only the new language in both visual and audio cues.
Just as travelling the world is now easier than ever before, so is learning a language. There’s no right or wrong way to go about studying, because people learn in different ways. You may be more of a visual learner, or may benefit most from out-loud practise – whatever it is, make a little time every day to challenge yourself on a language app, read along with an audiobook or watch a little international programming. Any one of these tools can make the learning process easy and enjoyable, allowing you to get fluent in no time.