If you know me or have followed me on social media for any amount of time, there’s something you’ll pick up on quickly. I got a thing for the French language: learning it, speaking it, sharing it, writing it. At the end of 8th grade, I transferred schools and remember sitting in the counseling office of a new school that was literally 10 times larger. As I sat with my academic counselor, I agonized over what foreign language I would take. (I suffer from a rare condition my mom calls analysis paralysis.)
Being the independent middle child I am, I decided to do something different and not be like my older siblings who took Spanish classes. I would be my Enneagram 3 wing 4 self who likes to pave her own path by taking French. Yes, I’m aware that I’m terribly dramatic, and I’m also not sorry.
Since then, I’ve been studying French and am always looking for new ways to keep my skills fresh. And mind you, I live in a town with a population of 120,000 in the middle of Missouri, which is anything but a bustling metropolis. I don’t have access to expat communities and world-class foreign language education.
But where there’s a will to grow, there’s a way to learn. With the incredible access we have through the Internet and social media, there are countless ways to learn a foreign language, and here are just 7 of them:
Travel and immersion
Although obvious, travel and especially immersion are the best way to learn a foreign language. Learning another language at school is a great way to provide a foundation, but actually visiting the country takes education to a new level. When you’re forced to think on your feet, you learn much faster because it’s not a 49-minute class that meets several times a week; it’s 24/7. The signs, menus, street conversations, store marquees, waiters, cashiers — everything and everyone operates in another language.
During high school, I went on a 10-day trip with my classmates to London, Paris, Florence and Rome. And even though it wasn’t an immersion trip and my time in Paris was a mere three days, I remember how giddy I was being able to use my French. I could order, talk to Louis Vuitton employees, read the menus, ask for directions all in French. It’s absolutely exhilarating.
If you have the choice, choose any type of immersion trip. The easy part about going with my classmates is that we all speak English, but when I lived in Toulouse for a summer, I went alone, moved into a hostel and had to speak in French because most people didn’t speak English. As tough as it was, my French improved dramatically.
One of my new favorite life hacks is Kanopy. Like, how did I just hop on this train? This free streaming service is linked to your library card. Offerings vary, but if you have a public library card, chances are you have Kanopy access. (If not, there’s a way to request it.)
This site has a fantastic selection of foreign films, and I’ve been able to watch old French films from Demy’s Les Parapluies de Cherbourg to François Truffaut’s Les Quatre Cents Coups with English subtitles.
Watching foreign films is not only a great way to hear the language spoken but also to understand the culture and history of a country better.
In May, my mom, sisters and I will be heading to France for a girls’ trip, and I am beyond jazzed. I’ve been taking French for the better part of a decade, and my younger sister took three years of it in high school. But my mom and older sister don’t speak French.
Enter Duolingo. My mom downloaded this language-learning app and has been working on it daily. This isn’t a substitute for formal language classes, but I have been so impressed with how much she’s learned through a mere app.
This app is a great supplemental tool whether it’s to learn new vocabulary or brush up on grammar rules. And if you’re traveling to a new country and want to have a few phrases nailed down beforehand, this is a great option.
I’ll be real here: I’m not a big e-reader gal. But last year, my French professor introduced me to one major plus. If you buy a book on your Kindle, you can click on the word as you read, and a definition will appear.
It’s so much easier than having your physical book opened on your lap and a computer or phone next to you for searching definitions. Here’s more on how to set up Kindle dictionaries.
You’ve heard of karaoke, you’ve heard of Sing It! But then there’s LyricsTraining. This site allows you to make a game out of foreign music. The premise is simple: pick a song in another language, choose a level of difficulty, then pick the missing lyrics.
It’s a great exercise in listening skills and is more fun than reading a textbook. I’m grateful my high school French teacher introduced this site to me (bonjour Mme. Thompson).
Social media accounts
How much of our day do we spend mindlessly scrolling?
*ashamedly raises hand
Oops. Use some of your social media time for educational purposes so that when you’re scrolling, you might just learn a new vocabulary word. I love following @FrenchWords because it introduces me to new French words and also explains idioms.
Dig around social media and start following language-learning accounts to keep your skills fresh and updated.
Like I said, I live in a mid-sized town in Missouri, and depending on where you live, you might have a harder time locating native speakers.
But in my town, there’s a group that meets at a restaurant monthly just to speak in French. There’s also two language immersion schools in my town of 120,000-something. I have French-speaking classmates from everywhere: France, Cameroon, Nigeria, Haiti.
Do some digging through a few Google searches. Are there any language learning groups in your area? Any primary schools or universities hosting language learning events?
The best part about the international community is that once you meet one, you’ll inevitably meet more. For example, at my Pure Barre class, I heard a woman talking about Montpellier. By her accent, I knew she wasn’t talking about Vermont, and I gently butted myself in and asked if she was referring to the French town.
She said oui, and I found out that she’s from Toulouse, where I lived for a summer. I’ve been to her house multiple times for charcuterie and wine and have befriended the French exchange student she’s hosting.
See what I mean? Put yourself out there, meet a native speaker, learn from them, ask them to help and correct you. Go out on a limb, and you’ll improve leaps and bounties.
Learning a foreign language when you’re thousands of miles from a foreign country or simply landlocked by other English-speaking communities, it can be discouraging. Don’t give up because learning a foreign language is one of the best investments you can make in yourself. And hey, it’s a great excuse to travel more.
What are your favorite ways to learn a foreign language?