Language learning may be hard work, but it’s not all serious all the time. There are a lot of different answers to “how to learn a language.” Some of the most effective ones are unexpected.
Using fun, weird, and even straight-up goofy language programs and techniques can keep it enjoyable and help you get closer to your language goals.
Table of Contents
- Why fun matters in language learning
- 18 Weird Ways to Learn a Language
- 1. Use language learning apps
- 2. Browse Subreddits
- 3. Use regional social media
- 4. Make new friends
- 5. Play multiplayer video games
- 6. Use dating apps
- 7. Change your phone’s language
- 8. Cook with original language recipes
- 9. Watch DIY videos
- 10. Shop at ethnic grocery stores
- 11. Eat at immigrant-owned restaurants
- 12. Read and listen to international news
- 13. Narrate your life
- 14. Listen to podcasts
- 15. Watch movies and TV shows
- 16. Read books
- 17. Keep a journal
- 18. Talk to your pet
Why fun matters in language learning
Who doesn’t want to make hard things in their lives more fun? When you’re learning a language, making it fun however you define it has benefits beyond your enjoyment. Making the process of learning a language enjoyable can also set you up for long-term success.
Sticking to projects is hard. Even when it’s something you want to achieve, you won’t always feel like doing the daily tasks to help you get there. Making these tasks more enjoyable is one way to keep up your motivation.
Using your brain’s reward center
Many language learning apps and activities are designed to give your brain little hits of dopamine throughout the lesson so you have wins to celebrate every time, keep using the app longer, and connect positive feedback with learning.
Working your new language into your everyday life
We’re all busy. It can be challenging to set aside time to study a new language. Many of these fun and weird language-learning methods are easy to work into your routine and your interests. Choosing ones that are aligned with activities you enjoy already is both fun and efficient.
Gaining real-world experience
Real people don’t sound like textbooks. Many language learners struggle with making the jump from the classroom to the real world because they don’t understand slang or can’t catch every word when a native speaker is talking fast.
Most of these techniques involve interacting with native speakers and other authentic sources, which means you get familiar with how your target language is used in the real world. The earlier you interact with these sources, the easier it will be to speak your new language in the real world.
Keeping it fresh
Everyone who’s gone to public school has realized a textbook was outdated. The world moves fast and languages are no exception. Interacting with native speakers and keeping up with pop culture and internet culture in your target language keeps your vocabulary fresh and current.
18 Weird Ways to Learn a Language
1. Use language learning apps
Language learning websites and apps are all about making learning fun. Some people consider them the easiest way to learn a language. Treating learning like another game on your phone is one way to motivate yourself and associate learning with the feeling of rewards. Each one accomplishes this a little differently.
For example, language education classic Rosetta Stone uses immersion techniques, and Spanishdict has a built-in spaced repetition system to help users easily memorize vocabulary. You can use language learning apps on their own or as a supplement to a class or tutoring.
2. Browse Subreddits
No matter what interests you have, there’s a subreddit for it. Not only are there subreddits specifically for learning languages, but you can filter general search results by language and interact with users who share your interests and speak the language you’re learning.
Using sites you use anyway in your target language gives you an in-depth understanding of the culture with the fun of simply wasting time online.
3. Use regional social media
Though the big social media platforms are popular everywhere, some countries and regions have their own that haven’t caught on elsewhere. For example, WhatsApp is much more popular internationally than it is in the United States, WeChat is popular in China, and Kakao talk is popular in Korea.
4. Make new friends
Language learning is social, even if you’re studying independently. Making new friends to speak your language with is an important part of making learning fun and having a community to work with. And having new friends is a benefit of its own! You can get started with Facebook groups for people learning your language.
Then seek out in-person or virtual meetups depending on the availability in your area.
If you live in a major city, you can find a community of pretty much any language and culture, but that might be more challenging to find locally in smaller towns. There’s even an app you can use to text native speakers called HelloTalk. If you’re not sure what to talk about at your level, find suggestions on ESL Discussions.
5. Play multiplayer video games
If you’re a gamer, you can use your favorite multiplayer games to connect with players from all over the world by changing your language settings. You can even watch Twitch streamers in your target language before you get started to get an idea of what gameplay will be like. “Get rekt n00b” is an important phrase in any world language.
6. Use dating apps
If you’re looking for love, you can incorporate your language learning into that too. And I’m not just talking about getting real curious about your crush’s native language. Many dating apps have a “passport” feature that allows users to swipe in other locations. On some you can filter potential matches by “language spoken.” Even putting your target language in your profile can attract other people who speak it. Who knows? You might even meet the love of your life!
7. Change your phone’s language
If you’re a person in the 21st century, you’re probably on your phone a lot. Changing your language settings is an easy switch to work a lot of language exposure time into your routine. Will it feel awkward at first? Maybe. But you’ll learn the words you need to text and post in no time.
8. Cook with original language recipes
Learning about a culture means new and exciting food to try. Why not make some at home? If you look up recipes in their original language, you can also incorporate some reading practice, new vocabulary, and cultural details you won’t get from the average US food blogger. Your meal turning out right adds some extra stakes.
9. Watch DIY videos
Following along with DIY videos in your target language is another great way to put your comprehension to the test. Having the visuals along with the words can help you learn new vocabulary through context clues.
10. Shop at ethnic grocery stores
Any major city is likely to have Asian or Latin grocery stores. Browsing the aisles and talking to the employees are great for real-world practice without hopping on a plane. You can make it even more of an experience by looking up a recipe in your target language and making a shopping list based on it. Then take a little time to browse the aisles and discover new products.
11. Eat at immigrant-owned restaurants
Whether it’s the taco place around the corner or your nearest city’s Chinatown, seeking out restaurants that are owned and staffed by native speakers of your target language is a tasty way to find speakers to talk to and expand your culinary horizons. If they have menus in the native language available, even better!
12. Read and listen to international news
Reading and listening to international news are both excellent ways to use your target language in your daily life. Written and spoken news stories are both designed to be easy to follow. The more you understand, the more informed you’ll be about the happenings in other parts of the world.
13. Narrate your life
This may feel strange, but you can practice speaking your language even when you’re alone. By narrating your daily tasks out loud to yourself, you’ll feel more comfortable with the words coming out of your mouth and get used to talking about the things you do often.
14. Listen to podcasts
If you can’t clean your house or commute to work without listening to a podcast, this is for you! Swapping out the podcasts you normally listen to with ones that are focused on language learning can go a long way. As you get more advanced, start branching out to podcasts about other topics by hosts that speak your target language.
15. Watch movies and TV shows
It’s not hard to find international movies and TV shows on popular streaming services. Start by watching them with English subtitles, then as you get better you’ll be able to use closed captions in the original language or no subtitles at all. You can also watch your favorite English-language shows with target language dubs when they’re available.
16. Read books
Reading may not be everyone’s idea of fun, but keep in mind that it doesn’t have to be hardcore literature. As long as it has words in your target language, it counts. Graphic novels and comics are fun and engaging for early learners. Translations of light, familiar favorites can make the plunge less intimidating. Children’s books aren’t just easy but can tell you a lot about the culture’s norms and values.
17. Keep a journal
Keeping a journal in your target language is an easy way to establish a daily routine. It’s also a great way to look back and see the progress you’ve made. Keep it as simple as you need to at first, then as your skills grow so will the complexity of your entries.
18. Talk to your pet
If you’re nervous about speaking your new language out loud, talking to your pet is an easy way to get some judgment-free practice in. They may not be able to talk back, but that also means no pressure to sound perfect.
There are plenty of weird ways to learn a language. But if something weird works for you, there’s no reason not to go with it. Weird can make learning more enjoyable. Weird can make it easier to incorporate a new language into your life. Weird can lead to new discoveries and connections. So what are you waiting for? Get weird!
– Luca Harsh is a Chicago-based freelance content writer. They speak a lot of French and a little of whatever language they’re currently trying out on an app.
Rosetta Stone is a property of IXL Learning, Inc.
Disclaimer: Rosetta Stone, SpanishDict, and Wyzant are properties of IXL Learning Inc.