Welcome to another week of Dear Duolingo, an advice column just for language learners. Catch up on past installments here.
Hey there! I’m Lisa Frumkes, and I work with the Freelance Operations team at Duolingo. I started on my first computer-assisted language-learning project in 1989, creating grammar exercises for beginning learners of Russian, and earned my PhD in Slavic Linguistics a few years later. Since then, I’ve worked with professors to integrate technology into their teaching, and have led the development of learning content at a number of edtech companies. But my hobby has always been learning languages, and I’ve tackled over a dozen: from French and German to Indonesian and Mandarin. Over the years, depending on where I was, what I was studying, and the resources I could (or couldn't) find, I've often had to get creative with my learning! So I can really appreciate this week's Dear Duolingo question:
Thank you for providing such a wonderful app. 🤗💜 I am currently learning Chinese and German—however, where I live in Ohio, I don’t get to interact with Chinese speakers.
What do you recommend to be able to connect with my language learning more when I live in an area that is difficult for me to find those I can practice and speak with? 😀
Thanks so much,
Boy, do I feel your pain, Buckeye Blues! I grew up in a small town with one movie theater, terrible radio reception, and no bookstore to speak of. Thankfully, I had a mom who took me to the local college for mommy-and-me French classes. We’d also check out language learning materials from the local library. And I had 130 penpals at one point (true story!) who helped me learn about other cultures and languages.
See, in the old days, language learners had to get really creative to interact with the language they were learning. They would subscribe to newspapers, go out of their way to see foreign films on college campuses, or buy short-wave radios and try to pick up transmissions from around the world.
Thankfully, today we have a lot more options!
Stream media in your new language
Nowadays, you can access audio from all over the world! There are podcasts (like the learner-friendly Duolingo Podcast), and you can also sample radio stations all over the world and hear their music and news at sites like Radio Garden. Such resources train your ear to the sounds of your new language, and can expose you to a variety of experiences that will teach you about cultures and dialects you’d have a tough time learning about otherwise!
You can also browse for music on your favorite streaming service and find tunes in the language you’re learning. I like to listen to them in the background when I’m doing chores at home or when I’m out running errands.
Watch a movie in the language you’re learning
You might already have heard about the value of watching films and TV shows in the language you’re learning. But here’s another approach: Cozy up with an old favorite movie, one you’ve watched in your first language a million times–but dubbed into your learning language! Then, since you know the story, you’ll be able to relax and let the language wash over you without worrying about missing some vital plot point. (That's right—this isn't the first time you've heard a language expert encouraging movie marathons!)
Learn through play
Duolingo knows that games offer great ways to learn. One of my favorite tricks (to make me feel better about the amount of time I’m spending playing whatever casual game I’m currently addicted to… 😅) is to change the game interface to your learning language. I played Gardenscapes in French for a long time and then switched to German! Playing a game in a new language, just like changing your phone settings to your learning language, introduces you to useful vocabulary—it'll hardly feel like "studying"!
Meet and greet… online!
You might not be as alone as you think! You may be able to find language partners in your local community who you can meet up with, either online or virtually, via Meetup.com, Facebook groups, or other platforms. You might even be able to find folks at local establishments-–my daughter frequents a particular cafe, because she can speak to people there in Chinese. It must run in the family: I used to frequent a particular bar because I knew that French people hung out there!
The world is your classroom!
Buckeye Blues, I’m so glad you’ve been thinking about how to get more exposure to your languages! Taking charge of your language learning by looking for more ways to practice is a great way to make sure you’re going to be successful. Figure out what works for you, and come back to this list as you make progress to mix in new strategies!
Do you have other ideas about how to learn a language when you don’t have ready access to other speakers? Or maybe you have a question of your own about language learning! We’re eager to hear from you, so drop us a line by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.