Top Tips to Help Your Language Learning

We’ve all been in bars, restaurants, or crowded streets in Europe and struggled to communicate with the locals. Let’s be honest – hola, merci, danke, gracias, or ciao is pretty much as far as it goes for a lot of us, and we often wonder how great it would be to communicate to people in their native language rather than muttering under our breaths in English. 

Learning a language requires a big investment of your time, so people tend to choose a method that they have been recommended or they know works – and that’s Duolingo. But I don’t believe Duolingo is the solution to your language-learning problems. Although it’s great for setting goals and learning interactive vocabulary and grammar, I’m not an advocate of the app. Realistically, when are you going to need to say, “the dog eats flies”?

So, after being asked for other, more effective methods for language learning, I’ve picked some of my favourite methods for learning and improving your skills no matter what level you’re at – beginner or advanced. It can be incredibly frustrating and slow at times, but with the right resources and a lot of persistence, it’s the best and most rewarding skill in the world.

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By Alfie Laurence

1. iTalki

Without a doubt, this is my top recommendation for studying languages. An online hub of language tutors from around the world offering their services for between £6-10 an hour – that’s a bargain! After you create a profile, you can browse hundreds of professional tutors and community tutors. I prefer the latter as the classes are cheaper, which works better on a student budget. You can watch an intro video from each of the tutors, choose the type of lesson, and choose when you want to book a class. The teacher will get to know you and the level you’re at, and then provide resources to inspire your language learning journey. 

Sign up to iTalki here – and if you buy £20 worth of credit, you get another £10 free!

2. Find a radio show or podcast you like

We all love a good podcast – maybe some more than others, and there is an abundance of language podcasts designed to help you study and learn. But rather than listening to Joe Rogan whilst walking in the park (although it’s a great podcast), why not try an hour lesson in Spanish or French with the podcast?

I recommend “Radio Ambulante” for Spanish learners because I love their stories and the Latin American accents. If you’re just starting out, “Coffee Break” does some really great, interactive series right from the first lesson – from learning how to introduce yourself and order a coffee, to agreeing and disagreeing with your friends (very important!). They have a whole range of languages, so definitely check them out!

Variety of languages: Coffee Break

French: Kiffe ta Race, Philosophy is Sexy, Manger

Spanish: Radio Ambulante, Algarabia Radio, Las Raras, Marca (sport)

Brazilian Portuguese: Mamilos, NerdCast, Cafe de Manhã

Italian: Got a recommendation? Fill in the form.

HelloTalk is like a penpal chat app and has been a great addition to iTalki for when I’m on the move. It allows you to talk with other people around the world who are wanting to practise their English. It’s kind of like WhatsApp, but with native speakers from different countries. You can decide what language to speak, when to chat to others, and who you speak to.

4. Use Netflix as a Language Learning Tool

Over lockdown, you probably got through countless Netflix films and series. Personally, I think it’s easy and fun to turn a Netflix binge into a productive language-learning session. If your languages are lying dormant at the moment, then watching a series in those languages will really get them going again. Over lockdown I watched O Crush Perfeito  – a Brazilian dating show that’s a bit like First Dates, and it reignited my love for the Portuguese language. 

You’ll learn local slang and phrases that are used in different countries, which will make you stand out from any other language learner. Whack on the subtitles or choose the dubbed version with subtitles in your first language – you’ll be surprised at how many phrases and sentence structures you pick up on.

Side tip: Have a pen and paper to hand. It’s useful to know some slang words or phrases, and you can even show them off to your teacher or friends the next day – they’ll love it!

5. Walter Presents

Walter Presents is a channel on All 4, providing a range of series from around the world. We’ve put together our recommendations of the best shows to watch in Italian, German, and Spanish.

6. YouTube

There are tons of videos on YouTube to help improve your language skills. Whether you’re struggling to understand the subjunctive or verb endings, you’re sure to find someone teaching it online in a more engaging, interactive way. 

Aside from videos focused on teaching the language, there are plenty of YouTubers around the world who film vlogs, pranks, and adventure videos – all the videos that you’d usually pointlessly scroll through, but in a different language! They can be pretty mindless, but watching them in a different language will help you with your pronunciation and you’ll hone in on those listening skills.

The best way to learn topic-specific vocabulary is by reading, so find a magazine you like and get reading some interviews, articles, or news reports. You can use this plug-in on words you don’t understand and it will translate them to English (or any other language you choose). You can also save the words you’ve translated and come back to them as revision.

We’re fortunate to have access to all of these different resources, so try to make the most of them. If you have any suggestions that you think we’ve missed, leave a comment down below!

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Do you have any tips of your own that you’d like to share? Then let us know in the comments below or send us a DM @studenttraveltipsuk on Instagram.

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