Carlie Sitzman MA, CT
Daily Foreign Language Learning Hacks
Updated: Mar 10, 2021
Learning a foreign language can be hard for those who find themselves awash in a sea of native language speakers. In the United States especially, foreign language skills run the risk of sinking to the bottom of the to-do list and drowning in an ocean of English when there is no lifeline in sight. But how can this sad occurrence be prevented? You could move to the country of choice, but that takes time, money, and stubborn persistence. There are, however, ways to create a linguistically immersive environment for yourself without even leaving the country! This month, I share some foreign language learning hacks you can use to fit foreign language practice into the nooks and crannies of your schedule and feel as if you are living the country where the language is spoken – without even leaving the comfort of your daily routine.
Product Packaging Word Search
In your journey toward linguistic fluency, look no further than your shampoo bottle. If you’ve ever been short on literature during a bubble bath and taken to reading shampoo bottles, you may have noticed languages other than English dancing across the container. Many shampoo bottles have French and sometimes even Spanish on them, right next to their English equivalents. What better way to learn the vocabulary associated with your favorite shampoo? If you’re a chemist, the bilingual ingredients list is also a riveting read for sure. This phenomenon is not limited to shampoo bottles though. Any product produced or shipped to or from a foreign country is likely to have bilingual labeling. Engage in a product packaging foreign word search and you too may find a world of new foreign vocabulary to keep you busy. Here is a brief sampling of household items that tend to come in bilingual packaging:
Furniture: New furniture is often rife with foreign words ranging from French and Spanish all the way to Chinese. It often comes complete with bilingual box labeling, bilingual instruction manuals, and maybe even a handwritten foreign-language note accidentally dropped in at the factory. This happened to us when we ordered some bamboo flooring for the house. We opened the box and out popped a handwritten note in Chinese. I also uncovered a delightful linguistic surprise when I noticed the corner of the box containing my new desk was labeled as “coin”. Assuming the English language had not changed THAT drastically overnight, I looked it up in French and was pleasantly surprised with a new word for my French vocabulary. “Coin” is indeed the French word for “corner” and a word I will never forget again.
Puzzle boxes: Before you sit down to enjoy a good jigsaw puzzle, check the box for foreign languages to learn new puzzle-related words. An informal survey of my puzzle boxes revealed a delightful mix of English, French, Spanish, and Czech.
Cosmetics, soaps, shampoos: In an informal survey of 10 bottles in my bathroom, 7 out of 10 contained French. If you’re learning French, don’t miss out on this useful resource of hygiene-related vocabulary practice!
Electronic devices: Electronic devices are often manufactured abroad and shipped in, so they are a fount of foreign language vocabulary. Just beware of user’s manuals, since they are notorious for bad translations. Use it as a way to practice what you know and maybe learn a few words whose meaning can be confirmed.
Go on a Labeling Spree
If the objects in your house aren’t already labeled in your language of choice, label them yourself! This is a great way to infuse a foreign language into your everyday life. If you like to cook, label all the cooking implements and ingredients in your kitchen. If you like working in your garage workshop, label all your tools and machinery. Knowing the word for an object then using it is a great way to solidify your knowledge. Once you start getting the hang of nouns, you could even start labeling objects with the phrases or verbs they are most commonly associated with. Foreign words for objects can also be quite charming and the perfect way to brighten your day.
Talk to Yourself
Why wait for the opportunity to practice formally, speak with a native, or even move to a foreign country? Create the feeling of total linguistic immersion right in your own brain by talking to yourself in the foreign language. You won’t sound crazy, I promise. Even if someone overhears you, they’ll just think you are from a mysterious and fascinating new corner of the world. Before applying this technique, it is best to download a dictionary app to your phone. There is nothing worse than getting stuck in the middle of a sentence with no way to look up the enticing new word or phrase just outside of your mind’s grasp.
This method works best when utilized for extended periods of time, since you will get used to reacting to your environment in the foreign language. It takes a lot of brainpower to maintain, however, so short stints are just fine as well. Try applying it as you cook dinner or fold the laundry, for example. If you were explaining your actions to someone on the phone in the foreign language right at that moment, what would you say? Try to associate the words you are practicing directly with your actions. The German word for “folding” is “falten” for example, so as you are folding laundry, you could think to yourself “this is ‘falten’”. Once you’ve gotten the hang of talking to yourself privately, try it in public. You don’t have to speak it out loud, but think the foreign language in your head. When you go to buy groceries, think of how your interactions with the cashier and grocery store staff would unfold in German. What would you say? How would they reply? Engage in a mental role play as you wait in line. Not only will you be making good use of your time, but you’ll be well-prepared to interact next time you visit a foreign country!
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