You just got home late after a long day of classes or work. Maybe you had an exam, or a big project due. You’re tired.
Now what’s more likely to be your next move after such a long day – will you diligently set out to complete your daily tasks, or will you resolve to let yourself relax for the night watching House of Cards?
I know there are many days where I’ve been lured in by that second option – after all, all work and no play? That sounds really boring.
But when this becomes a habit it can have devastating effects on your language-learning goals. It’s incredibly easy to forget what you’re not using, and unless you already have a high skill level in the language(s) you’re studying, you’re going to see that skill level drop quickly.
Neither one of us wants that to happen.
So what if your relaxation was also a form of studying?
Luckily, with the invention of the internet and an ever-metaphorically-shrinking globe, it’s pretty easy to make sure you can get a daily dose of immersion without giving up your precious free time.
Here are some ways I’ve been working on my language skills, even on the off days.
Let’s start with reading comprehension – probably the easiest skill to work on through hobbies due to the sheer ubiquity of the written word. Basically every media-based hobby can help you with this in some way, whether it be reading, playing videogames, or investing all of your time (and probably money) into Magic: the Gathering.
If you’re the reading type, books are the obvious go-to answer to get some extra practice in. There are an enormous amount of books available in basically every language, and libraries go a step further by making many of them free to read.
A great way to boost your reading skill, especially as a beginner, is to read translated books you already know in your native tongue. I’m quite enjoying Harry Potter y la piedra filosofal, and already knowing the context of the book gives me a huge advantage when picking up new vocabulary as I read.
If you’re not a big fan of books, you can head to your local videogame store for some more interactive study methods.
Many games released in recent years have the option to display text in several different languages, making them a great way to casually boost your reading comprehension. Naturally, some games are harder than others – for example, playing a story-driven RPG like Bravely Default (3DS) may just leave you frustrated if your reading level isn’t already pretty decent.
For those looking for a more casual experience, Animal Crossing can be very rewarding for beginners and advanced learners alike. Specifically, Animal Crossing: New Leaf (3DS) is a great resource because it’s meant to be played in short, daily bursts. Simply checking in on your town is an easy way to get an extra half hour of practice every day!
If you want to find out if your game has other languages available but can’t find an option for it, try changing your system language. I know many games (specifically, 3DS games) that will check what language your system is in and use that for the in-game display automatically.
Outside of the games themselves providing options, some consoles (like the PS3 and the original Nintendo DS) are region-free, meaning that you can import games for them from other countries and they’ll work on your system.
As for Magic: the Gathering (or any other trading card game), getting your hands on the foreign cards you need isn’t always easy, so it’s not quite as accessible. What I can say about playing with foreign cards is that critical thinking + language practice = good things.
Oh, and as an added bonus, reading any of these things out loud will help improve your pronunciation.
This skill deserves a little extra attention, since it’s a little less accessible to practice than reading.
Heavy Rain (PS3) is easily the best resource I’ve used lately for practicing my listening skills, but you’d better come prepared. With full voice acting and subtitles, along with a very choose-your-own-adventure style of gameplay, you’re forced to make quick decisions in response to your language of choice (with English subtitles, if you’re not feeling ready to go all in yet).
Music (like that found in the Powlyglot Playlists) is also a great way to immerse yourself, as long as you know the difference between actively listening to a song and ignoring the lyrics to listen to the instrumentals. One of them will help you, the other isn’t going to do much of anything.
Other than that, movies and other programs like Wakfu are my favorite ways to practice listening. DVD and Blu-ray releases often have several audio and subtitle options to choose from, and some of my favorite pieces of media are foreign films like Pan’s Labyrinth and Amélie.
Vocabulary acquisition is a rather broad practice that will happen naturally as you do anything with a language. Due to this, things like books and movies are bound to teach you a few new words here and there.
Videogames, however, can do quite a good job of teaching you very specialized vocabulary based on what game your playing. Books and movies have specialized vocabulary too, but the repetitive nature of videogames means you’re a little more likely to remember it. This can end up helping you learn many words you wouldn’t have thought to look up otherwise.
The biggest example of this for me is with Monster Hunter 3: Ultimate (3DS/Wii U). I’ve only ever played the Monster Hunter games in Spanish and French. Because of this, I know all sorts of words like claw, fang, tail, and scale that I probably wouldn’t have learned under any normal circumstances.
For a more custom vocabulary experience, my favorite choices are Pokémon X and Y (3DS). Not only can you play the games in 7 different languages, but you can nickname every Pokémon you catch to create a new set of vocabulary for yourself. I’m currently nicknaming everything I catch in French after fruits and vegetables that they look like, and it’s honestly pretty adorable to have a little blue Azurill named after blueberries.
Any other ideas?
How do you incorporate language-learning into your favorite activities? Better yet, do you have any hobbies that help you practice speaking another language? I’m sure we’d all love to hear your thoughts in the comments!