Nov 15th 2018
Guest post written by Mary Ivanova.
Learning a foreign language can feel like a mountain that you have been climbing for far too long with far too little progress to show for all that effort. Yet most of us realize that mastering a foreign language isn’t (and shouldn’t be) a Sisyphean task. Let’s see how we can turn our sweaty climb into a leisurely hike with a few simple tips that will definitely make studying fun again!
Remember kindergarten and all the fun we had spilling paint all over the paper, creating elaborate sand castles on the playground sandbox or building a lego tower that we didn’t care being tipped all the time? The reason that was so much fun was because we felt no pressure to learn and were given the freedom to explore.
The same process happens when, as adults, we pick up a hobby. We sort of aimlessly browse through the riches of knowledge in these new fields and pick and choose where we want to go. Since we are exploring and learning at our own pace, we are focusing on solving problems at hand and that helps tie in the knowledge we obtain with the actual activity. Our brain, which takes note of how useful these actiosn turned out to be, records these lessons more thoroughly.
Edutainment is not a new weird thing only your hip college professor is trying to make happen anymore. The word is now a firmly established notion, backed up by a number of studies. Here are some of the tips I picked up along the way both when learning English myself and while getting my psychology degree at a pedagogy-minded college.
- Turn it into a game
Gamification is all the rage right now. With the wide success of reward-based social media (Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Reddit, etc.) and companies implementing internal gamified reward systems, left and right, for their employees, it’s no surprise that my first suggestion to make learning a foreign language fun is to turn it into a game.
You don’t even have to make up your own games. Buy and download cool lesson plans from the edupreneur portal Teachers Pay Teachers or just google something. If you feel like creating your own materials, use visual templates from Crello to create colorful cards or posters.
Speaking of templates, use them to do some classroom blogging. Turns out that’s an actual thing. Students get to apply their writing skills, learn, and, with all the gamification tools, followers, and shares built right in, you don’t even have to break a sweat setting the whole thing up.If you have any doubts about how motivating blogging for a handful of readers can truly be, take it from someone who blogged her way out of a pixie cut and into an almost waist-long mane (which, alas, is no more, but that’s beside the point) – it IS.
- Choose relevant and/or exciting topics
Most of us aren’t the biggest fans of using public transportation during rush hours, but have you noticed that when you absolutely have to be somewhere you don’t really notice how crowded or uncomfortable (or, let’s be honest, unsanitary) your ride is. You are so consumed by the result you are working towards, that all the little hardships along the way begin to feel way smaller than normal.
This works for language learning (or any type of learning, for that matter) as well. It’s pretty boring to repeat the same thing over and over again, just for the sake of, hopefully and eventually, getting it ingrained somewhere in your mind. However, not only does repetition become exciting when you are doing it for an exciting or important for you purpose, your brain is fast to realize that it needs to store this information, as it has proven to be useful.
Into celeb news? Read a gossip blog in English! Subscribe to your favorite English-speaking singers, actors or creators on Instagram or other social media. Find professional publications that publish materials from English speakers and cover all of your favorite topics. Look for communities and media that excite you and you won’t even notice how fast you’ll feel that much more confident in using the vocabulary you have acquired so far.
- Talk to people online
This one is sort of similar to the previous point. When you need to talk to someone, you are forced to use the language the two of you have in common. Reddit is a great place to start since it has a subreddit for nearly any topic imaginable, and you’ll be able to find a community that shares common interests with you and is very active. In most large subreddits you’ll get a few meaningful responses to most posts and questions within an hour.
A lot of people have voiced their fear of picking up mistakes from such unedited interactions. Not everyone, using English online, is a native speaker and even when they are, such messages can still be riddled with mistakes, lack of punctuation and slang. My answer is, invariably, that these messages reflect real language in its natural habitat, and helps a student get a ‘feel’ of how communication happens using all sets of rules and assists in utilizing vocabulary.
Furthermore, such informal settings help you relax and pay less attention to the embarrassing mistakes you are making. As long as you are bringing your point across, the other party, in the conversation, is generally just happy to have someone nice and interesting to talk to.
- Watch something
All the games, relevant topics and online conversations will only get you so far. To really perfect your English, watch movies, TV shows and programs created by native speakers. I religiously watch YouTube snippets released by late night hosts Seth Meyers, Stephen Colbert, and Trevor Noah. Samantha Bee is another favorite.
Search YouTube for day time and late night shows that post videos online, subscribe to Netflix or Hulu, and definitely check out the free content Facebook Watch has been putting out lately. This year’s premiere Sorry for Your Loss is a very engaging half-hour drama starring Elizabeth Olsen, who is doing a great job with her role of a slowly unravelling grieving widow.
And don’t bother turning on the subtitles. Reading the text on the screen is not only extremely distracting, it just feels like work. Hit the play button, sit back and chill (only works if you are interested in the plot though, so don’t hope to just magically absorb the knowledge without even paying attention, if you know what I mean;)).
You can even host a movie night for your study group and make a cool poster for it.
- Read great English
This one is for all of you advanced students out there. Once you have a strong enough base to appreciate all the cool linguistic twists and turns masterfully written pieces have to offer, it’s time to start reading. I recommend The Guardian for news lovers, Celebitchy for gossip lovers, and The New Yorker for sharper think pieces.
After you’ve considered and/or tried out all the learning solutions listed above, see which ones stick and, most importantly, don’t stop learning (and trying to make it fun) even if none of the tricks work for you.
About author: Mary Ivanova is a writer with degrees in psychology and political science. She writes copy for Crello.