Making a video in a foreign language is incredibly easy, even if you have just started to learn it.
I made a minute long segment of my video entirely in Turkish this week just a few days after starting to learn it and have been getting great feedback and encouragement from people once they had seen it. After a slow start, simply preparing for and making that video has forced me to improve my level extremely quickly.
The reasons you might want to make such a video in your early stages include:
- Forcing yourself to output something and getting used to pronouncing the words
- Burning the words of your video into your memory forever, since you’ll know them really well thanks to the preparation, especially as I describe it below
- Giving yourself a project to work towards with a deadline, forcing you to improve by that time (along the lines of Parkinson’s Law). I recommend “the day after tomorrow” as your video upload deadline, not several months from now!
- Sharing your language project with the world, so you can get support and so you can be held accountable publicly to continue improving
- Using the video itself; a love-note for your girl/boyfriend, an introduction to yourself for natives on some social networking site, a more personal reply to someone on a forum by linking to it, or a way to measure your progress with time.
- It’s also excellent practice to get you used to using your language to help you become more comfortable for when you do it live with a native.
I make a lot of videos – before I started this blog I had a whole website to separate the 100 or so videos I’ve got on Youtube into different languages. One of those videos (about Burning Man) was picked up by National Geographic and shown on TV on Natgeo adventure in Italy, because I made it in Italian too.
Most of those videos are in documentary style with a voice-over, but these days I’m making more and more videos were I’m speaking directly to the camera.
People think it’s super hard to make such a video and that you should wait until you’re “ready” and speak the languages fluently. I say start as you mean to go on. Use the language now in as many ways as you can and you’ll improve on your skills much quicker.
If you wait until you’re “ready”, you will never be ready as you will keep up this routine of looking for excuses to prevent you from ever trying. I decide to be ready from day one so as soon as I’ve gone through the preparation steps outlined here I can make a video in that language immediately. That’s all there is to it.
First week learning a language? Of course you can make a video entirely in that language!
Most videos I like to make are when I’m already comfortable in the language, which is pretty obvious when I’m talking live and unrehearsed with another person in Spanish and French (fluently), or Hungarian and Dutch (basic conversationally) etc. The majority of my videos are recorded because I am comfortable enough in the language to use it spontaneously without preparation specifically for the video.
However, on occasion I’ve made a video just after starting to learn to speak. I did this my first weekend really trying to speak in Thai, my first day learning ASL, and most recently, this week in Turkish. Each time I was honest about the preparation that went into making the video (saying that it wasn’t spontaneous, nor could it be considering how I had just started speaking in each case!)
But the results of making these videos have been incredible! Each time it has skyrocketed me to start to make dramatic progress thereafter (except with Thai since I waited until my last weekend in the project to make that video; a far-too-late mistake I’m trying to prevent any of you from making Since then I try to make my videos much sooner) and the script of the videos have been burned into me forever so I can produce them at a moment’s notice, which can be very useful when key vocabulary or phrases are included.
As well as this, I get incredible encouragement from people! It’s so important to get this emotional boost to set you in the right direction. People who watch the video will congratulate you (as long as you are clear about what you did in the video, and are not bragging), and offer helpful hints so your next one will be better.
So please do try to make a video. It will cost you nothing but a little time. These are the completely free steps I recommend taking to do it:
Setting up for recording
- Get your equipment ready. Your computer may have a webcam included in it, and that’s fine, but sometimes it’s better to use your still camera‘s video record mode (pretty much all modern digital cameras have this option; the fact that it isn’t HD or whatever doesn’t matter so much), since you will be much more flexible in where you can record it. Some mobile phones also do this, but the quality may be quite bad and almost unwatchable. And of course if you have an actual video camera that can help too, although it’s not really necessary to have all its features in this case. Before recording, check your video settings to make sure they are ideal for uploading and saved in a recognisable file format.
- Choose a fun and interesting location. Using your webcam in the same place you always use your computer means we will always see just you face-on and the boring wall in your room behind you. This is only slightly better than simply creating audio and labelling it as a podcast. Take your camera (or webcam with laptop) outside of your house, and change scenery while recording if possible. Even having some nature in the background can be a huge improvement. Or walk through somewhere interesting while talking and holding your camera. They’re small and portable for a reason
- Alternatively, if you must be in one location, think of another way to make it more fun. For example, in the only non-English sit-down soliloquy video I’ve made, I introduced fun props to make the video way more entertaining. A video that’s fun to watch will get shared more and have more engagement and feedback because of that. (My language hacking guide video has received 50,000 views and 150 comments on Youtube in just over a year, as well as lots of tweets, @s and Facebook shares about it). For more random ideas to make a video that little bit crazier, see the photo I’ve included with this post Making it more interesting isn’t so necessary, but it will make it more likely that people will stick through your whole video.
- When you’re ready (see below), press record! Press stop when you’re done and you’ll have a file ready to upload (also explained below). In most cases you don’t need to edit the file at all.
Preparing the language part
This is presumably the hardest part since you “don’t speak” the language yet.
Well, I don’t call myself a language hacker for nothing! Hackers are famous for finding ingenious ways of solving a problem (typically with computers, and sometimes with all aspects of life) that otherwise would take much more time (and money) to achieve. The best way to do it is to…
Yes, you read that right. Cheat. Find a way to do it even though you aren’t “ready”. As long as you are honest about this (as I am in my specifically first-week videos listed above; in the rest of my videos I’m not cheating, but do like to joke about it ) there is nothing sinister about it.
It’s only cheating in the sense that you are breaking the “rules” that you should wait until that non-existent ready-day before doing anything ambitious.
So this is what I recommend doing to be able to produce a video similar to the ones I’ve made in my first week:
- Prepare your script in advance in your mother tongue so you know precisely everything you want to say. (Talking about your language learning mission, giving us a tour of your town, whatever it may be. Have a purpose or theme to the video if possible, rather than random ramblings). There will be plenty of time to be spontaneous in the foreign language later. Right now you simply want to be confident about what you are saying. Too many people lack this confidence, so making a video where you know precisely what you are going to say will inject this confidence into you when you need it most! This will definitely help you for actual spontaneous conversations later.
- Keep in mind that the longer your script is, the more memory and other work you have later. If it’s your first time, aim for a one minute long video. Keep in mind that it will take you more time to get through foreign text than the equivalent in your native language.
- Try to translate it so that it is correct. If you already have a lower intermediate level of the language or higher already, try to do your best to create a text in the target language that is as good as possible. Translating like this is an excellent way to learn. If you really are in your first week, still try to produce it yourself as best as you can. Try to avoid using Google Translate (or other automatic translation tools). When I say “cheat” I don’t mean to skip important parts, and understanding precisely why you say things a particular way is part of the learning process. If you don’t understand (almost) every word of what you are saying, then you will just be reciting noise.
- If you get really stuck then ask a native to help you (there are many sites that you can get in touch with one through), but ask them about particular sentences and give them your best attempt first, so they are helping you learn the process rather than simply acting as free translators.
- Finally when you have a full text that you have mostly prepared yourself (with some help perhaps), send it to Lang 8. Users on this website will correct your text for free in foreign languages. Now you have a native-approved text that you can learn!
- Next you need to hear how that text is pronounced by a native. Send the resulting text to Rhinospike. To make sure that your text (i.e. your account) is prioritised, read some other requested text in your mother tongue aloud into a microphone and upload for other users. This user contribution is how both this site and Lang-8 remain free for everyone.
Practising speaking it yourself
- So now you have the text and know what it should sound like thanks to the native! It’s time to practise! Listen to each native-spoken sentence while reading the corresponding text and pay attention very carefully to what each letter and syllable sounds like. Then repeat it, aloud. Say it with confidence, not under your breath.
- Do this for the entire text of several sentences. If there are tricky sounds that come up, then look into trying to mimic them as best as you can such as short-cuts to roll your R. Mimic every aspect of the native speaker; the loudness, precisely where the stress on words are, the musicality, the speed etc.
- If you have time, record yourself reading the language (pure audio) and send it to a native to get some feedback on the most important things to change, or which part is not understandable.
- It won’t be perfect, but let’s say you can repeat the text as well as you can now! It’s time to commit it to memory!
Memorising the text
- Simply reading on camera is not effective, you need to be able to say it from memory, or much more naturally. It looks more professional and it also allows you to develop your skills at saying these phrases at a moment’s notice without having to scramble for your notes.
- I use a combination of several famous anchoring memory techniques, combined with my favourite music-phrase-learning technique (explained in one of the free chapters of the Language Hacking Guide you get if you sign up to the e-mail list on the top right of the site). So take the first word(s) of each sentence and assign an image to them of whatever comes to mind (the more illogical, loud and crazier the better). Here are some suggestions for how I use image association with foreign words. Make a story with these first words in the right order so you won’t miss out on a sentence. This way you know where to start each time, based on what you have just said.
- Now take each phrase and sing it out to the tune of some music you like, as described in the free chapter I mentioned. I do this to learn phrases in general, but it’s very effective for learning components of a speech too. Sing it out several times, remembering the word and sound for each beat. After a few repetitions it should be applied to memory.
- You should have the components ready to say the entire part of the video without any help from the paper. Start with the first word, think of how the phrase is sung out, and then simply say it. The singing is only for recall purposes, you don’t have to actually sing on camera. (But that could be fun too!) Now you’ll remember from the story you imagined what the second word is, and will recall the song also from that second sentence. Speak that out, and continue in the same way until you finish.
- Do this a few times and you should have the whole text memorised. Now say it with feeling. Seriously – remember what you are actually saying - the content should come easier now and you can focus on the meaning so it comes across as much more natural. This last stage is crucial so the language becomes more natural to you rather than just memorising some noise.
Uploading the file
- So once you’ve got it all memorised, speak in the video and then press stop and you will have a file ready to upload!
- Any kind of editing is not so necessary for this type of video, and you can upload the file directly. I’ll usually only edit the file in video software if I have several scenes to put together, or if I want to use my own nice-looking subtitles (but you can apply standard subtitles right after uploading as explained below).
- Upload it to Youtube or to dotsub. (I like dotsub’s easy and direct way of adding subtitles, but since most people prefer Youtube you might want to stick with it). See how I used dotsub for example on my Spanish or French LHG pages.
- When it’s uploaded go into the Captions and Subtitles (Youtube) part of the video settings and download the machine transcription. The actual text will be totally useless… however the timing for when you speak will be useful and you can replace the text based on the pre-made time-stamps. You will want to add the subtitles in English (or your mother tongue) so your friends back home can understand it, and upload the text file. If you upload it to dotsub, here are instructions on adding the subtitles.
- Make sure to fill out all the other information on Youtube such as the tags and the location, as this will help people find your video easier.
And you’re done! Embed it on your blog (making sure to enable subtitles) and share it with the world
The amount of steps I’ve included here are only for the sake of being as detailed as possible for people with all levels of familiarity. Let me know if I missed anything! Many of these steps are very simple and you can go through the whole process in an afternoon (plus time waiting for feedback from native speakers).
So give it a try! When you are done, I want to see your videos! Post links to them in the comments below to share them with the world And if you have any other thoughts on this process, then share them with us!
Ready? Lights…. camera… action!
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If you enjoyed this post, you will love my TEDx talk! You can get much better details of how I recommend learning a language if you watch it here.
This article was written by Benny Lewis
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