Did you have to learn a foreign language in school? Do those language classes not trigger happy memories?
Even if they do, chances are your current job and/or other commitments don’t leave you enough time to continue taking formal language classes.
But you don’t have to give up on your dream of becoming fluent in a second language: Make learning a new language your hobby.
Attitude is everything. That means you may have to change old learning habits. If in the past, you beat yourself up because you didn’t do your homework, or felt dumb if you made a mistake in front of others – you now need to get a new mindset.
Don’t just put your language practice on your to-do list. Learn to make it something you look forward to doing. Let it be a break from your routine. If you enjoy learning new things, that’ll be easy.
Learning a language has many benefits no matter how you do it.
We’re always learning, every day. Whether we’re aware of it or not, we’re cut out to be lifelong learners.
Throughout the day, we solve all kinds of problems. We see, hear, read, and speak about new information. In our interaction with others, we learn of new ideas, and if we’re open-minded, begin examining our own.
Research tells us that learning new things is good for our brain and our self-esteem. Plus, it helps us to meet new people and makes life so much more interesting.
Learning a language fits right in with that. Who said that we can’t learn a language after the age of 10? Just ask Steve Kaufmann, who’s over 70 and learning his 17th language: Too Old to Learn A Language
It’s not a mystery that we become better at the things we focus on and practice.
And, even though your new language is “just” a hobby, it may impact quite positively on your work as well.
Learning a new language is a sure way to enrich your social life. It adds interest to your identity and provides you with new stories and topics to talk about at social gatherings.
Your new language also gives opportunities for making new friends. Shared interests are a great way to meet people.
In many places, there are cultural centers where you can attend film evenings, book discussions, or other social events. Or you can find a language meetup in your area where you can practice your target language over coffee or a beer.
There are also different kinds of larger gatherings for language enthusiasts. These have informal talks on all kinds of language topics and provide plenty of opportunities for social interaction.
We attended the 2015 Polyglot Conference in New York, and LangFest in Montreal, in 2016 and 2017. Check out Langfest 2018, again in Montreal.
Another way to connect with others is to join one of the numerous language groups online. This can be on Facebook or Google+, or on language websites such as Babbel, Lingualia, italki and many others.
When you’ve covered the basics of your target language, start using it for other things that interest you. That way your language skills will improve a lot.
Do some of your reading (news articles, etc.), listening (audio books, podcasts), and watching (films, TV) in the target language.
Having curiosity is a big asset! With a language comes a whole world of history and geography to explore. Not to speak of music, food, film, literature, philosophy, local and regional traditions.
There are numerous groups on Facebook, Instagram, Google+, and YouTube that deal with language learning – learners who share their own progress and advice, as well as teachers who provide content and/or market their program or language business.
Beyond YouTube videos that teach you a language, there are lots of videos (in popular languages) that are made for native speakers. They explain how to play various computer games (Minecraft, Fortnite), how to cook local dishes, build or fix things, and so on. You’ll also find popular YouTube channels in various languages that feature comedy, fashion, travel, philosophy, you name it.
Above all tie your language learning into other activities you like to do.
Use your favorite social media channel to post photos and drawings, videos, things you’ve written. It’s a way to practice vocabulary, get pronunciation feedback, or get started on writing. At the same time, you’ll get better at the other skills that are also involved.
Planning to travel? Part of the fun is preparing for your trip. If you learn at least some basic phrases in the local language, you’ll enjoy your experience more deeply.
So-called Slow Travel has recently become popular. It means staying for a week or two (or longer) in one place and exploring your surroundings on foot, by bike, on short train or bus trips, etc.
Subsequently it’s perfect for combining travel with your language hobby. Stay a week in a town, and you’ll get to know the neighborhood markets, the pubs, and cafes. You’ll meet some of the locals who go there. With them, you can use (and practice) your new language without anxiety. Once back from a stay like that, it’s easy to stay passionate about your new language.
Learning a language as a hobby takes away the traditional pressures and stresses of school performance. It puts you fully in charge of your own language acquisition. And thus it may be easier to silence your inner critic.
To sum up, it’s up to you to figure out learning strategies that work for you. You can choose what’s important for you – be it socializing, traveling, acquiring new knowledge, working on confidence building.
To borrow a quote from a popular writing coach: “Really, the only issue that matters is not how much you do or when you do it, but THAT you do it.” (Daphne Gray-Grant)
Bio: Ulrike Rettig is the co-founder of GamesforLanguage.com. She is a lifelong language learner, growing up in Austria, the Netherlands, and Canada.