Growing up in suburban New Jersey, English was all I ever needed. I was brainwashed into thinking that it was the only language that I would ever work with, and therefore treated the four years of Spanish that I was required to take in Middle and High School as my “breeze classes”, never fully embracing it as an opportunity to experience a new language and more importantly, a wealth of cultures.
My life has changed drastically by completely internationalizing itself in the last decade. I have a Brazilian boyfriend with a family who only speaks Portuguese, I work with clients in China (and worked there for four years), I live in Germany, and the programming classes I teach are filled to the brim with refugees predominantly from Syria and other Arabic-speaking nations. These are the moments when I desperately wish I grew up speaking a second (or third or fourth) language.
But it really is never too late, and regardless of your situation or location on this Earth, you will find pleasure and use in learning languages. My advice is: EVERYONE SHOULD DO IT. I could go on and on about the benefits forever, but let’s cut to the chase and jump to my recommended language learning methods that can be done from wherever.
In the ideal language learning scenario, you are getting lots of exposure to both formal and informal situations of your language of choice. This means attending formal classes, but also supplementing it with self-study, one-on-one speaking and listening tutoring, and full-on immersion. Since this isn’t possible unless you are living in the country where the language is widely spoken, let’s have a look at my favorite methods that you can access from anywhere:
For simulating immersion
Italki - This is an online platform that connects 3 million language learners to teachers in a ridiculous amount of languages. Looking to learn Chinese, Spanish, or even Icelandic? You can pay-per-class and immediately be exposed to the language by patient teachers or the cheaper community tutor options. You can search for teachers by budget and even watch an introductory video before signing up. My Portuguese and current Chinese teacher all come from this platform, and as cliche as it sounds, they have become pretty good internet friends of mine as they open my ears to the language and culture. Use my referral link and we both get $10 in credits!
I swear I wasn’t hired to write about them, but my good friend works here :)
Classes Nearby - Aside from talking to real people in the language, as made possible by Italki, check to see if there are immersion classes offered near you. Many universities let students to audit these types of classes. Furthermore, lots of cities offer foreign language schools with a smorgasbord of different languages. One here in Berlin offers part-time classes ranging from Portuguese to Swedish. The benefit of in-person classes is you improve upon grammar and vocabulary in a systematic way too.
If you can put the time in, combining these two methods, will simulate the ultimate immersion experience.
For learning the ins-and-outs of grammar
Duolingo - This is an option on your smartphone and while I don’t think it always teaches the most practical parts of a language (i.e. Why am I learning the word for dolphin before being able to ask “How much is that?”?), it is such a cool tool for picking up new vocabulary and really getting the structure of different languages. You can set daily goals for yourself (which typically just require minutes of study each day) and bathe in pride as you go from one gamified level to the next. Best of all, it’s free and with a growing list of contributors and languages, you can try out languages like Romanian, Irish Gaelic, and even Klingon!
For reading practice
Children’s books - This may seem silly, but getting hold of some children books in whatever the language you are learning is massively beneficial to boosting your reading ability, vocabulary, and understanding of the language’s structure. It also gives you insight into little cultural differences from your own.
The most important thing is setting a goal (make sure you study a language that you have a strong interest in) and figuring out how to integrate some of these methods into your daily routine. Once it becomes a habit, you will undoubtedly start to see the difference, and once you gain fluency, you will start to think in that language (I used to dream in Chinese when I was more fluent!).