As anyone who’s accidentally squandered an entire Saturday on Netflix can tell you, a computer screen can become a world unto itself. This is no different for remote language education.
Remote language learning is unquestionably a wonderful modern advancement. After decades of limited language learning resources in countries where internet access was nearly impossible, remote language learning has empowered people worldwide to learn languages that they couldn’t have dreamed of. But remote language learning carries its own particular risks, the greatest of which is that your language learning experience will become limited to the computer screen.
Achieving even conversational fluency in a new language requires using flexible, spontaneous speaking, and this simply cannot be reached if you’re learning your language using stagnant, isolated tools on the Internet. If you don’t practice regularly with real human beings, it is difficult to achieve the deep internal understanding that accompanies genuine comprehension and fluency. Fortunately, there are many ways in which the remote language learner can bring their scheduled, remote lessons into the world around them.
Practice with fellow students
The easiest way to bring language into the real world is to look for people who will help you practice speaking and listening in person. Canvass friends on your social media accounts to see if any of them are learning the same language as you, or visit one of the many online language-learning forums to look for fellow students in your area. If you can find any, they will likely be just as happy to find a fellow student with whom they can practice.
Learn from a native speaker
Better yet, see if you can find a native speaker who is willing to chat with you. A native speaker may be able to explain idioms or practical uses of the language that you might not get from remote lessons. Even if you can’t keep up a conversation with them just yet, ask if you can listen to them speak the language. Listening to native speakers over an extended period of time is incredibly useful in acclimating yourself to the cadence and structure of a language. It’s also a great way to witness some practical, contextual use of the language in everyday life, which in turn leads to a richer understanding.
Listen to podcasts
Even if your location is more remote and you can’t find fellow students or native speakers, there are still lots of ways to practice listening to a new language. Look for podcasts or radio programs in your language. News outlets in particular tend to feature very clear enunciation, so these are especially useful for listening practice. A few languages even have podcasts that feature slow, generic speaking of a language for new learners. Try to pair casual language listening with your regular workout. Physical activity actively oxygenates your brain, making exercise a great time to absorb and internalize a new language.
Read a book or watch a film
Finally, pairing a new language with a familiar story is a great way to improve your verbal and written comprehension skills. This can be done with both books and films. To improve your reading comprehension, pick a familiar, fairly easy book (Harry Potter, with its many translations and popularity, would be a great choice) and try to read it. If you already know the story well, you won’t be completely lost and can focus on sentence structure and comprehension at the level of the word. The same can be done with films. Look for a copy of a favorite film with the audio set to the language you are trying to learn. As with books, if the film is familiar you won’t have to worry about following the story and can instead focus on listening to the language being spoken.
Learning languages from books and films has advantages that the classroom can’t always provide. Like native speakers, characters in fiction tend to speak more colloquially and less predictably than an instructor does. Absorbing a story in another language also provides an opportunity to see the language being used fluently to express complex ideas. As this is the ultimate goal of language learning, it is invaluable to see a language’s practical uses in action.
Use the language
Remote language education has given students worldwide the basic tools they need to learn a new language. Achieving fluency, however, requires constant, varied use of the language, and in this respect remote education has its limitations if it isn't paired with speaking and listening practice. So if you’re one of millions learning a language remotely, try out some of these ideas to bring the language out of the computer screen and into your daily life.
About the author:
Ted Meyer is a writer and editor based in Brooklyn, New York. He hails from Minnesota, went to college in Ohio and has lived in India and Berlin. Ted's latest language is Dothraki.