Even in today’s technologically advanced (and dependant) society, it is fundamental to participate in some language classes with real teachers that will help you improve all four of your language skills (writing, listening, speaking and reading) and help you reach your personal learning goals more quickly. In particular, in class you get the chance to practice your conversation skills in a safe environment (we know how hard it is to tear the “wall of embarrassment” down). But man does not live of bread alone: there are some other extracurricular fun activities you can do on your own to give your learning a “boost”.
I once tried to learn German using one of those language learning apps. It did not go very well for different reasons – the lack of interaction and motivation meant I would just end up regretfully scrolling my Facebook homepage for hours instead. You can try these more enjoyable activities instead:
#1. Pack up and go abroad
This might seem obvious, but I think it’s important to stress it: the most effective way to fully learn a foreign language is to go spend some time in the country where the language is spoken. Our brains are pretty lazy: they will avoid doing difficult and energy-consuming activities (as trying to communicate in a foreign language), unless we really really have to. Being forced to speak English for everyday tasks (some of which are fundamental for your survival, such asking for food) will improve your language skills so quickly you won’t believe it.
Dublin is a great city to have your abroad experience for many reasons. Irish people are, in fact, particularly fond of foreigners and you won’t have many problems to make friends here. Secondly, if you want to have a work experience to really improve your English, you won’t have much trouble at finding a job, especially in the service sector. For these reasons, the Irish capital is a lively multicultural city where foreigners are welcome!
#2. Find love!
The keys for learning a foreign language are mainly two: motivation (to force our sluggish brains to do something difficult) and interaction (unless you are completely insane, communication usually requires at least two people). What is the most beautiful thing that unites the two? The power of love! (and of hormones, if you are not a romantic type). I assure you, trying to make yourself understandable by the guy or the girl of your dreams will make you a pro at speaking their language.
If you want to meet new people (and potential partners), Dublin offers a series of meetups of every kind. You can find them here.
#3. Pay a visit to your library!
You’re not very good at flirting, are you?
Don’t worry, if finding a mate sounds like too hard of a task for you, there are easier things you can do. This one in particular will be useful to expand your vocabulary: read!
I understand that if your language level is not too high, reading a book where half of the words are just meaningless gibberish might be even more frustrating than finding an English speaker willing to flirt with you. My suggestion then is: read children books! First of all, the stories are pretty easy and fun to follow, even if you don’t understand 100% of the words used. The structure of the sentences will also be not too complicated, but you can be sure that the language employed will be correct. There are some great quality English books for children, such as the classic Roald Dahl (the guy who wrote Charlie and the chocolate factory). If you feel more confident, you can also move up to young adults books, such as the Harry Potter or The Hunger Games series.
Here is a list of websites were you can legally download free books!
#4. Children are the best teachers
When I lived in the States, I got to work as a babysitter for a while. I had to look after a 3 and a 7 year old girls. This was one of the things that mostly helped with my English. Children require so much attention and will speak a lot, even if you don’t know them particularly well. In other words, you won’t have to make too much of an effort to keep the conversation going! And, since they don’t care if your language level is low, you won’t be embarassed to make mistakes when talking to them, so you will feel more confident when you speak. And finally, children will not be shy to tell you when you make mistakes!
#5. Listen to podcasts
Maybe your current lifestyle prevents you from doing all the previous things. You have a stable job in your country, not enough time to travel, are already in a serious relationship, don’t enjoy reading and don’t know any foreign children.
You have no excuses, because there is another hassle-free way to practice your linguistics skills: podcasts! You can listen to them anywhere and anytime you want and they will not take up too much of your precious time. For example, instead of listening to music, you can listen to podcasts while you do other activities such as driving, cleaning or walking.
Podcasts are also a very interesting way to learn about any type of stuff: there are podcasts about science, technology, politics, arts, you name it. You can find them on the Internet (there are many dedicated sites such as Itunes) and there are also some cool podcast apps you can download on your phone.
A few suggestions from the alpha team:
The moth: A podcast where people share some of their greatest stories.
Cracked: the podcast of the famous comedy website, where they share brilliant and funny thoughts about different subjects, pop culture, science, myths and so on.
Ted talk: the famous talks about “ideas worth spreading” in podcast version.
The English We Speak: this podcast was realised by the BBC world service. The three minute episodes are designed specifically for learners, and it focuses on everyday phrases and slang.
#6. Play videogames
I’m not a great fan of videogames, but I know many people who are. One of the things about English and videogames I hear the most videogames were more effective in their language learning than the English classes they took in school. Even though this sounds a bit of an exaggeration, it is true that another fun way to keep your language in shape is to play videogames. And not only those educational videogames that were especially designed for this. When you play a videogame, usually the characters and the instructions all speak English: this will give you enough motivation to try hard to understand what they are saying and thus expand your linguistic knowledge. A type of videogame I had the chance to play myself and enjoy (I didn’t even know I could enjoy playing a videogame) was graphic adventures. In these types of videogames, it’s like you are watching a film where you can actively participate, so there is a lot of language involved. If you don’t want to spend money you can just try the playable demos! You can find some of them here.
There are also some videogames which are specifically designed to learn English. You can find some of them here.