Ten Ways to Fit Language Learning into your Day to Day Life

Or: What To Do When You Can’t Take A Language Class but Want to Maintain your Second Language

(I’m really great at headlines)

Eighteen months ago I decided, out of the blue, that I was going to learn French.

Twelve months ago I took on a second job and suddenly sleep was my most important out-of-work activity.

Six months ago I realised that my French was slowly but surely slipping away from me and if I didn’t do something about it soon, that dream I had about one day moving to Paris would probably stay a dream.

I thought about signing up to take a class but then I remembered how French class at school had made me hate the language so much it took me ten years to get past it and also how I’d recently quit my job to go freelance so now had basically no money. No French classes for moi.

Instead I started to look for ways (preferably cheap ways) I could fit French into my everyday life, so I can be working on my second language without having to commit to it 100%.

And these are ten things I came up with:

1) Find songs in the language you are trying to learn and get them onto your phone/mp3 asap.

These can either be original songs performed by native speakers or you can search for translations of songs sung in English. I literally go onto youtube and type in the name of a song I liked then add ‘en francais’ afterwards and see what comes up. The added bonus of this is because you already know the tune, I’ve found it tends to stick in your head easier. Although a word of warning – sometimes lyrics won’t be direct translations so don’t assume that if you don’t recognise a word it will be the same as in the original English version.

For example I found the Mamma Mia soudtrack en francais and immediately went for my fav ABBA tune, Thank You For The Music. In English it’s “Thank you for the music, the songs I’m singing. Thanks for all the joy they’re bringing. Who can live without it, I ask in all honesty. What would like be?” Using my terrible French I think they sing: “My life is the music and I say thank you. Thank you for the fantastic times (areas?!). Without the music, the two ears fall off and everything is grey.”

So slightly different then.

2) Follow twitter accounts and facebook profiles in your desired language

I’m a big fan of this method because of the surprise element. There I am, happily scrolling through my social media feeds not really thinking about too much, then bam! suddenly there’s some French! It keeps me on my toes and I ALWAYS try and translate it myself before clicking the little ‘see translation’ button. I use that to see if my translation was correct and I get a little buzz every time I get it right!

This method is also useful because you’re learning a SECOND language. So if things go to plan and you do end up becoming fluent in that language you’re going to spend a whole bunch of time translating things back and forth for yourself and probably other people as well. There’s no harm in getting used to easily switching between languages as early on as possible.

3) Click onto the foreign language version of a website before heading over to the English version

Buzzfeed is perfect for this for a majority of reasons. A) Most of the posts have pictures which can help you to figure things out if there’s a word you’re unsure about. B) The subject matter is often not particularly taxing or intellectual. C) The French version of the site tends to have the same articles as the British and US sites, so you can use that to check your translation against.

Here’s French Buzzfeed!

(A quick word of warning, don’t assume that simply replacing .co.uk or .com with .fr will automatically take you to the French version of a site. I did this with Vice and ended up on a porn website. NO JOKE)

4) Watch a tv show/film in your desired language

An obvious one but really worth doing if you’re a tv addict and don’t mind investing the time. Start off with kids tv (if you can stand it) then progress on from there or find shows you’ve watched in English dubbed in another language (sensing a theme yet?!)

Some French Shows I’ve Enjoyed:

Les Revenants (The Returned)

Un Gars, Une Fille (A Guy, A Girl) 

Résistance (Resistance) 

And I’m always on the look out for more! Films too of course!

5) Listen to the radio in your desired language

I do this through my phone, using an app called ‘Hot Radio Fr’ that I found on itunes. I find it’s a good thing to have on in the background while I’m doing something else and I like to think it’s training my ears to the French language. I have absolutely no evidence to back this up but it makes me feel better.

6) Read books (even if they are kids books) in the language you want to learn

I found it much much much easier to do this with books I remember reading from my own childhood. It really makes a difference when you have at least a vague idea of who the characters are and what the plot it likely to be. I’m currently reading The Famous Five (Le Club Des Cinq) with the aim of moving onto A Series of Unfortunate Events (Les Désastreuses Aventures des Orphelins Baudelaire) with the ultimate goal of conquering Harry Potter.

It’s also really cool/hilarious to note the cultural differences that come into play when reading in a different language. For example the Famous Five gang in English are Julian, Dick, George, Anne and Timmy the dog. Le Club Des Cinq are Francois, Mick, Claude, Annie et Dagobert le chien. Quelle surprise!

Some John Green books I was eyeing up in Paris
Some John Green books I was eyeing up in Paris

7) Add a second language to your phone

I did this entirely by accident. Back in the early days of my language learning when I was super enthusiastic about it and progressing in leaps and bounds I decided it would be a great idea to switch the language on my phone to French to keep my head in the language-learning game. Eventually I got annoyed by it so changed back to English again but the magical thing is the French stayed on my keyboard settings, so now I have the option of typing in French or English. Ideal!

8) Learn about the culture of the language you are trying to learn

It’s always easier to remember things when you have some context behind them. I’ve always been interested in idioms and colloquial sayings and found it really fun to learn some French ones!

Some of my faves (with their English equivalents):

Fumar comme un Pompier – Smoke like a chimney  

Reconter des salades – To tell stories/spin a yarn

Etre lessive(e) – To be exhausted

Casser les pieds de quelqu’an – To bother someone/get under their feet

I also found it interesting to research different accents in France and the connotations that go along with them.

9) Stick post-it notes on everything!

My room might not look tidy but my god is it educational! I have French words written on sticky notes and put on almost every object. It’s how I learnt the words for window, bed, pen, door, laptop… They are little words but they have a tendency to turn up a lot and have been really useful to know. It may not be glamorous but you’ll be surprised at how those words stay with you without you even consciously trying to remember them.

10) Learn some slang! 

This could probably link to 8) but I wanted to give it it’s own number because it’s so much fun! I mean, there’s a French Urban Dictionary for crying out loud! And you’ll get MAJOR points when you do start chatting with native speakers because you’ll sound like a modern, 21st Century human instead of a walking text book!


Et voilà, there we have it.

Now don’t get me wrong, I know these little adjustments aren’t going to get me fluent. But I’ve found them to be extremely helpful for maintaining my current level of French until I’m at a point in my life where I can devote the necessary amount of time to learning the language properly. And that’s the best I can manage right now.

So all together: “Ma vie c’est la musique…”

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