Knowing a foreign language can increase your earning potential in many job situations by giving you an advantage over your fellow co-workers: the ability to reach out to a client base who may not speak English. You might also want to improve your foreign language skills to navigate an international city with ease on a business trip or vacation. Regardless of your motivation, learning a foreign language doesn't have to involve the kind of five-days-a-week, two hours a day commitment that you were expected to make when you were in school. Arguably, one of the easiest and most effective ways to pick up a foreign language is simply to integrate it into your daily activities as much as possible. Here are some ways to make learning a new language painless, particularly if that language is prevalent in the United States (like Spanish).
1. For vocabulary and basic phrases, download a free language software program like Before You Know It Lite. Their software comes in 64 languages (as of this writing) and include over a dozen lists. If you like the free software, you can buy the paid version for a mere $40 per language. The paid version lets you create your own vocabulary lists and comes with an additional 60+ lists. It also has several other language learning modes, such as advanced pronunciation practice (if you have a microphone for your computer). Even the free version pronounces the words accurately and clearly, which is a big help. I have been using this program in my quest to learn German, and it's been a big help. It's also saved me the time, expense, and clutter of making flashcards from index cards.
2. Make better use of your cable package. Most cable television packages include some foreign language channels. Where I live, there are plenty of channels in Spanish and Korean. You may even be able to special order a channel in your target language. You can also watch foreign language TV online for free. For German-learners, the Deutsch Welle website offers a variety of TV programs.
3. Take advantage of podcasts. Podcasts are free and its easy to find podcasts in your target language through iTunes. There are foreign language podcasts geared towards teaching language basics, understanding the news, learning slang, understanding jokes, and more.
4. Don't toss your instruction manuals. Many manuals come in multiple languages, making it easy for you to compare the English with your target language and learn some new words.
5. Pay attention to the labels on products like shampoo and prepackaged foods. Many companies have turned to multi-lingual labels, especially those who distribute their products in Canada or Spanish-speaking regions of the United States.
6. Shop at ethnic grocery stores. Here, you're more likely to find imported products with labels exclusively in foreign languages, or in both a foreign language and English. You'll probably also save some money.
7. Read foreign newspapers online. Newspapers have a fairly low-level vocabulary that is often easier for a language newcomer to understand than, say, a poem or short story. Papers also have a wide variety of articles, so you can try to read something about a topic that actually interests you, which will make the process more fun and make it more likely that you'll remember what you've learned.
8. Sign up for language classes. Community colleges, language schools, and night classes at local universities may offer language classes with schedules that accommodate adult obligations.
9. Participate in a language exchange. Through websites like Craigslist, you may be able to find a foreign exchange student, dual citizen, or other person who would love to have you help them improve their English skills in exchange for teaching you their native language. The downside of these exchanges is that people without instructor training don't necessarily understand the needs and challenges of the foreign language learning process, but on the plus side, it's free and you're more likely to learn every, colloquial usage rather than the strict by-the-book version of the language.
10. Rent foreign movies with subtitles. If you have the patience, watch the movie once with subtitles, so you understand what's happening, then again without subtitles, to focus on making sense of the language. Some TV shows, like Sex in the City and The Simpsons, are also dubbed in foreign languages: if you buy the DVDs or use the SAP button on your remote control while the program is being broadcast on television, you can take advantage of this extra feature.
When it comes to learning a foreign language painlessly, these ideas are just the tip of the iceberg. Stay tuned for future posts with even more ideas for improving your foreign language skills, and let me know which tips work for you!
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