Immersion is the best way to learn a language – and there’s no need to move overseas to do this.
Moving to another country is only one approach to creating an environment where the target language is a part of your everyday life. Even then, there’s no guarantee that you’ll immerse yourself in the language.
A better approach is to create an immersion environment.
You can create an immersive experience no matter where you live.
An immersion environment is all about finding opportunities to bring the language into your current lifestyle and activities.
One of the most common lifestyle elements we all share is the use of a tablet or smartphone.
How can you turn your phone or tablet into a virtual immersion environment? And how can you use your device to connect with native speakers? These apps are the place the start.
1. Your Operating System
Okay, technically this isn’t an “app”, but it definitely deserves a mention! The biggest boost you can give your digital language immersion is to change the default language on your device’s operating system to your target language.
This has the added benefit of changing the language on many of your apps as well. For example, if you’re a die-hard player of the game Hearthstone, then you can now play it entirely in a new language.
Plus, for any apps that you already use, this will help you build new vocabulary and phrases. Let’s say you frequently “add new event” on your calendar app. When you switch the language on your device, you’ll quickly learn how to say “add new event” in your target language.
2. Streaming Video Apps
You may already know about installing the YouTube or Vimeo apps on your devices to watch language-related materials while you are out and about, but what about other video-streaming services?
If you subscribe to Netflix, Hulu or Amazon Prime to watch movies and TV shows, you can put these shows on your playlist and watch them on your device to enjoy some language immersion on the go.
But that is just the tip of the iceberg. Try searching for the word “videos” in your target language in your device’s app store and you’ll find a variety of streaming services specific to your target language’s audience.
For example, the popular Chinese video service, Youku, also has an app that will let you watch Chinese language videos on your device. Find video-streaming services for your language and you’ll be able to watch videos, shows and movies in your target language wherever you are.
You may recall my adventures with Moses McCormick (a.k.a. Laoshu) in Ohio . I joined Moses doing what he likes to call “Levelling Up”. It was really simple: we went to the local mall to find people to practise languages with.
You may be at a loss to know where you can find businesses where people speak the language you’re studying, so what can you do? Download the Yelp app, which connects you with businesses (including restaurants, markets and cafes) in your town. Do a search for a specific type of food (“Japanese” or “Mexican”, for example) and then read through the reviews to determine whether the owners and employees are from that country.
Save those places to your favourites list and the next time you want to go out to eat, you’ll have a list of restaurants and businesses where you can also practise your target language.
4. Voice Recording Apps
Many devices come with a voice recording app pre-installed. This can be used for more than just remembering the song you hear on the radio, or recording a lecture in class.
Here’s what you can do:
- Record native speakers for later review. For example, if you’re watching a foreign language TV show, why not capture the audio so you can listen while on the road?
- Record yourself in the language and analyse your accent and pronunciation. As painful as it can be to listen to yourself, listening back later is invaluable in improving your speaking skills. Better yet, send the recording to a native speaker to have them review it.
- Record your sessions practising with a native speaker. During a one-on-one lesson, capture what is said and listen to it over and over to really ingrain what you learned.
How many times have you been out and wanted to remember a word to look up later? Or how many times were you talking with a friend who shared a golden nugget of language learning information and you had to scrounge around for a paper and pen to take it down?
With Evernote, an online note-taking app that syncs between all of your devices, you are able to keep a living document of all you learn in your new language.
I recommend setting up dedicated notebooks within Evernote such as “useful phrases”, “words to memorise”, “things to look up” or “questions to ask my tutor”. Just creating these notebooks will inspire you to start taking notes. Set aside a weekly study session to work through the notes you’ve created.
6. Google Maps
As I said before, immersion doesn’t mean you have to visit another country. But even if you’re not going there, you can still become familiar with the lay of the land.
One of the coolest features of Google Maps is Google Street View, where you can virtually stand on a street in different countries around the world. You can look around at the shops, signs and surroundings in that neighbourhood.
Use this to practise asking directions, or use it to try and guess the meaning of street signs and billboards that you can see along the side of the road.
Take it to another level by sharing your screen with a native speaker and role play with them to find your way around. Studying French? See if you can get yourself from Charles De Gaulle airport to the Eiffel Tower, describing the directions you take and your surroundings as you go. Studying Chinese? How well can you navigate the streets of Shanghai? This provides an almost endless supply of study material and conversation topics.
If you’re not familiar with Periscope, it’s a relatively new social networking system built by Twitter, where you can stream live video to and from your mobile device.
People all around the world use it, which means that there is probably someone out there using it who speaks your target language. Search using Periscope’s map tool for people who are broadcasting from a country where your target language is spoken, and check out what they’re up to.
You can comment and type a greeting in the language as well, so you can get in some writing practice to see how well the other person understands you.
Another way to use Periscope is to broadcast yourself speaking your target language. Scary? You bet! But a great way to take the plunge and get immediate feedback on your speaking skills.
I love playing games on my phone. Did you know they can be educational too?
Many games are available in a variety of languages. Using your device’s app store, do a search for the type of game you like to play (“RPG”, “Board Game”, etc.) in the language you’re studying and see what comes up.
The best games for language learning are role playing or strategy games, since they tend to be text-heavy.
If you changed your operating system to the new language, odds are the game you’re already playing has already been switched to the new language!
TuneIn is my favourite app for listening to radio. But you don’t have to just listen to your local stations or music in your native language.
You can search TuneIn’s listings for radio stations all around the world. You’ll likely be surprised at how many hundreds or thousands of stations you can find! Talk radio, the latest hit songs, traffic reports and weather forecasts. You can get all these in any language.
Conclusion: Create an Immersion Environment on Your Smartphone
Now you know: immersion isn’t all about moving to a new country.
You can create an immersion environment wherever you are, with tools you already use daily. It just takes a creative eye to see beyond the obvious and create opportunities where they may not seem to exist.
Do you have any apps you love to use for language learning that are out of the ordinary? Share your ideas in the comments!
And finally... One of the best ways to learn a new language is with podcasts. Read more about how to use podcasts to learn a language.