8 Creative Ways to Learn a Language

こんにちは (Konnichiwa – Hello!). げんきですか (Genki desu ka? – How are you?/Are you fine?)

A second language is a tool many people would love to have under their belt, but it’s a dream that rarely comes to fruition. Language learning requires consistency, will power, time, and patience, one or more of which people are lacking. It should feel like something you really want to do as opposed to something you have to do.

I studied French for 6 years throughout high school and college, and without consistent practice or interest for the language, I lost a lot of what I learned. My French speaking skills are beginner at best, and I can only understand it when it is spoken by someone else. I regret not giving French the time and attention I should have. Lesson learned, I’m taking a new approach the second time around.

In my quest to learn Japanese, I’ve come up with a few creative ways to learn a language beyond textbooks and language courses. If you’re not yet in a position to visit the country where the language is fluently spoken, these suggestions will be the next best option for immersion.

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My introduction to the Japanese alphabets

My Recommendations

The foundation for all of these methods requires a full on hustle and destroying any fear of embarrassment. Work smart and hard, and confidence will explode out of you.

  • Understand, off the bat, you will not become fluent overnight
  • Seize every opportunity to speak, write, and read
  • Learn with friends or family so you have someone to practice with
  • Don’t give in to fear and frustration, use them as motivation
  • Take breaks, give yourself time for review instead of cramming new vocabulary every day
  • Some form of learning must be practiced every day

Above all, have a love for the language. I love the French language, but back in school, I didn’t appreciate its beauty like I should have. For me, Japanese has fascinated me into an obsession and infautation with the language therefore making it fun. If you don’t enjoy the learning process, it’ll make the road to fluency that much more difficult because it starts to feel burdensome.

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Flashcards really helped at the beginning

Creative Methods

Traditional Language Learning

The traditional avenues like language courses (online or in a classroom), Rosetta Stone, flashcards, etc. are great tools with which to be armed because they lay the groundwork. However, in order to speak naturally like the locals, you’ll need to take it a step further. Language learning requires much more than hours in front of the computer. You’ve got to get out and actually start talking to people.

I was very fortunate to receive Rosetta Stone for Christmas and have been practicing with other websites as well like JapanesePod101, Read the Kanji, and various “Word of the Day” apps on my phone. At least 3 hours per day are dedicated to learning Japanese, and the rest of the day, I find unique ways to practice what I’ve already learned.

My couchsurfing host in Nagoya, Norimasa-san!

My couchsurfing host in Nagoya, Norimasa-san!

Language Exchange

Use Couchsurfing to contact locals and university students in foreign countries to set up a possible language exchange. Not only will you get a free tutor, but you’ll be able to teach and learn more about your native language and make new friends along the way. Thanks to web cameras and apps like Skype, language exchange with someone who lives 5,000 miles away suddenly becomes very easy and affordable.

Friends & University Students

Reach out to friends who speak the language you’re learning and ask them to help you. Take advantage of talking to people who are studying/speaking the language at local colleges and universities and using their study resources. It’s an opportunity to learn together and perfect your skills through constructive criticism.

Similar to my French speaking abilities, my grandmother can understand Japanese but cannot speak the language well so she is re-learning with me. It has proven very helpful to have someone with which to bounce back and forth different vocabulary, phrases, and sentence structures.

Inside a Japanese supermarket

Inside a Japanese supermarket

Stores & Restaurants

Near my house, there is a Japanese grocery store where I can go to read the labels on foods, let my love of Japanese cuisine run wild, and even practice my Japanese with the couple who runs the store! If you are so fortunate to have ethnic restaurants or stores nearby that provide translation in 2 languages, that’s a gold mine for learning.

Label EVERYTHING

Take a calendar and label all the days, numbers, and months. Whenever you eat something or go to the store, verbally practice vocabulary words in your chosen foreign language. Label the furniture, use foreign greetings, translate anything/everything out loud to yourself, and do so often to keep the language fresh in your mind.

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Well rounded language learning

Social Networks

Change the language on your social networks (Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, etc.) and even on your phone. If you have friends online that speak the language you’re studying, read their walls/tweets and translate what it says. Given that social media plays such a significant and relevant role in our lives these days, social networks serve as a great way to improve those reading skills. Studying the vernacular of young adults will help you blend in better.

Before the New Year, I switched over my Facebook account to Japanese so that I could start picking up kanji, hiragana, and katakana letters. It has been a challenge, but it is helpful. I’m also using Pinterest, Tumblr, and Instagram to search out written calligraphy, and it has been a great way to learn slang and lingo that can’t be found in published dictionaries.

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Real world translation activities

Media

This is the age we live in. Movies, music, Youtube, interviews, newspapers, and audio books are all available at your fingertips, and most of the time, FOR FREE. You’d be a fool not to take advantage of these resources, especially with things like movies and music that give such an in depth look at a country’s culture. It’s a brilliant way to develop your terminology for conversation starters and topics, identifying word emphasis, and practicing speed of speech.

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Practicing calligraphy at U of M in Ann Arbor

Take a Vacation

You knew this was coming right? The best way to get the most practice is to visit the country where the language you’re studying is the native tongue. The interaction with locals and listening in on conversations will help force translation and accelerate fluency. Subtle details that you can’t properly acquire from learning on your own such as formality, accents, and word breaks will be at your disposal and learning the culture and history that surrounds the language will really drive it home.

日本に行きます (Nihon ni ikimasu – I will go to Japan). In April, I will return to Japan to put my language skills to work and continue learning face-to-face with everyone around me.

For more language learning encouragement, check out Fluent in 3 Months. Benny travels the world, making it a mission to acquire intermediate to advanced fluency in different languages, in just 3 months. He is fluent in something like 8-10 languages and provides some valuable tips and resources for language learning.

読んでくれてありがとう(Thanks for reading!)

What other languages can you speak? What tips do you have for learning a language?

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