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May 2016

How to Learn a New Language While Running Errands

Learn words and phrases you’ll actually use in the real world

It's undeniable that the best way to learn a new language is to visit the country where that language is spoken. Immersion is key, and the daily exposure to everyday words and phrases (as well as the necessity of using them in a foreign country) helps a learner solidify and fine-tune language skills. But what if you don't have the time or resources to travel? Can you still surround yourself with the everyday knowledge you'd acquire if you stayed in the target language country?

The answer, of course, is yes.

One great method for learning new words and phrases is by running errands while using your target language. For example, when you go grocery shopping, rather than thinking (or speaking to yourself, if that's your thing) in your native language, try utilizing the language you hope to learn. What is the word for banana? How do you ask about the cost per kilogram of something? Do you know how to inquire about aisles, food allergies, or cuts of meat? Translate all the thoughts and phrases you would use in your native language into your target language.

Additionally, you can pretend you're shopping with a friend, offering commentary on everything you say. Start up a conversation about your day as if your friend was right next to you, then comment on the color of salad dressing bottles, or perhaps the aesthetics of tangerines. Does anyone even like canned spinach?

Learning these everyday phrases will help you strengthen the vocabulary and phrases you'll most likely need when you conduct necessary errands in the country of your target language. This exercise can and should also be done in other everyday settings like the post office, the clothing store, and the restaurant (or, better yet, find a restaurant in which your target language is used). Learning the vocabulary required in these venues will prove invaluable when you travel because these are the types of venues you’ll most likely find yourself in.

Running errands in your target language is much like role-playing in class, though the real-world setting makes it more authentic and offers more variation. It's an especially important exercise as many textbooks only cover a foundation for the basics (shopping, airport terms, travel vocabulary), but it's up to the student to dive deeper to expand said vocabulary. Utilizing your target language in the real world will remind you of all the different words there are still yet to learn.

How do you learn new words without rote memorisation? What is your advice for other language learners? Let us know on our Facebook Page, and be sure to “like” TELC English for more language learning articles!

Picture: (c) Fotolia, Minerva Studio