10 Free or Low Cost Ways to Create Language Immersion at Home

¡Buenos días a todos!

When we hear the words “language immersion,” we typically think of living in a foreign country for a period of time and being completely surrounded with the target language one is trying to learn. Over the past 2 months, however, I’ve made giant strides in my Spanish listening and speaking capabilities, without ever setting foot in a Spanish-speaking country! 

Thankfully, gaining conversational fluency doesn’t require extensive travel or a lot of money. The suggestions I’m listing below can apply to any language, although all of my language-learning experiences at the moment involve Spanish.

1. Label household items in target language

This was one of the first things I did when I started getting aggressive with my Spanish learning goals two months ago. I even made big anchor charts to hang up in my living room, so I would be able to conjugate verbs on the fly. It’s important to not only label these every day items, but to be cognizant of actually using these words when you speak… even if it’s something as simple as, “Quiero un cafe” or “Dame mi bolsa”

2. Build a strong foundation through free apps

Two words: Duolingo and Memrise. Memrise is a bit slow and focuses more on memorizing individual words or phrases, while Duolingo follows a series of lessons that are strategically designed to build your foundation. It is an AWESOME app and one of the best resources you will find for free!

duolingo

3. Change your phone settings to target language

While it can sometimes be frustrating to get a notification you don’t totally understand, it has forced me to get more familiar with certain words. This setting also puts my Google Maps directions into Spanish, and will automatically translate people’s posts from Instagram and Facebook into Spanish. Like most people, I use my phone a lot, so I am constantly learning Spanish this way.

phone

4. Listen to free podcasts while working out or driving to work

I recently discovered Coffee Break Spanish through Spotify, and I love it! The episodes feature Mark, an experienced language teacher, and Kara, his student. The podcast is recorded in Scotland, but Mark’s Castillian Spanish accent sounds very authentic. Each episode is about 20 minutes long and very easy to follow along with during your commute to and from work, or during exercise!

5. Speak to native speakers

I’m fortunate to work very closely with three lovely native Spanish speakers. I attempt to speak to them and ask them to correct my grammar when I say something incorrectly. I ask a lot of questions and actively listen when they converse with each other.

However, a lot of people trying to learn a language do not have that same advantage. If you are one of these people, I highly recommend you check out Italki. You can pair yourself up with a language partner for a free language exchange. You would help them out with their English while they help you out with your target language. Another feature I will soon try out is the private tutor feature… it’s not free, but the first three lessons come at a significant discount. Even at full price, the half hour and hour long lessons are reasonably priced and completely catered to your level of proficiency.

 

6.Watch a TV show and/or news every day

Remember watching Destinos during your high school or college Spanish courses? I do. I recently started watching these again with a more critical ear, and it really helps you get better adapted to understanding spoken Spanish. The language is pretty basic and best for beginners.

A woman who works as a Spanish interpreter at my school gave me this piece of advice: “Watch a telenovela and a news broadcast every day! Telenovelas (soap operas) will teach you conversational Spanish and the news will teach you more educated Spanish.”

7. MUSICA, MUSICA, MUSICA

I wrote about this earlier this month because it is undoubtedly my favorite way to learn Spanish. As I become better versed in the different genres of Spanish music, I become increasingly passionate about the language. To be honest, I can’t even remember the last time I listened to music in English for longer than 10 minutes or so! I actually prefer Spanish music now. Mariachi, bolero, salsa, traditional rock, even bachata… I’ve been listening to all of it and completing lyric studies with every song.

8. Read in target language everyday

Books, news articles, blogs… there is no shortage of free material online or in your public library. I purchased a slew of children’s books through Amazon earlier this month, but I also try to read from Ventimundos and El Pais as often as I can. Pretty soon I hope to graduate to novels for more extended reading.

books

9. Seek out restaurants and stores of that language

For Spanish this is easy– just go to an authentic Mexican (or Colombian, Salvadorian, etc) restaurant and start speaking! “Estamos lista para pedir” – “We are ready to order,” etc. Even if I butcher a sentence, the person I’m speaking to understands what I’m trying to say… waiting until you have perfect grammar before you speak is the biggest mistake most people make when learning a language. It just doesn’t work that way. You have to try to speak first and the correct grammar will come in time.

As I said before, this doesn’t just apply to Spanish. If you’re trying to learn French, German, Mandarin Chinese… there are restaurants and businesses out there chock full of Native speakers. Tons of potential for you to converse.

10. Keep a journal in target language

Translating from Spanish to English is significantly easier than translating English into Spanish. Keeping a journal completely in Spanish is hard and something I’m still not doing 100% consistently, but when I do it, I always see the benefit. If you’re a beginner, your journal entry for the day could be just a simple list of things to do:

Wash the clothes – lava la ropa

Clean the kitchen – limpia la cocina

Walk the dogs – caminar con los perros

You get the idea!

One word of caution about these suggestions: while I have found all of these to be effective, what you get out of language learning has everything to do with what you put in. Everything requires work on your part, and the will to learn and improve! Passively listening to podcasts, music, or TV shows will not do much for you. I’ve been working diligently for the past two months, but I’m still no where near fluency. With more time and hard work, though, I will get there– and so can you!

Con amor y amistad,

Eva

Immersion

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A Fun Way to Learn Another Language / Una divertida manera de aprender otro idioma

In January, I wrote here about finally buckling down and increasing my Spanish proficiency for personal and professional reasons. My dad is a native Spanish speaker and my mom quickly picked up the language when they were married in the 1970s. Growing up in South Texas, I picked up a few phrases and important words, but the language simply wasn’t spoken very much at home… so I became resigned about being able to ever learn Spanish. About 80% of the country only speaks one language, and for most of my life, I was okay with being part of that majority.

MomDadWedding
Mis padres (en el centro) en su dia de boda

Until now. The truth is, that it’s never too late to learn a second language. Kids do pick up languages faster than adults, but a big reason for this is that kids learn by babbling and speaking with whatever words they know. Adults obsess over correct verb conjugations and grammar rules in the target language, so it takes much longer for them to get comfortable with speaking.

I practice daily in different ways, but the most fun way is by listening and studying MUSIC! I complete lyric studies of my favorite Spanish songs — songs that I don’t mind listening to over and over — by studying the Spanish words and translating them into English.

Mira esto:

 

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La Tortura – This one took a while, because it’s super fast!

 

 

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Tu, by Shakira. This song is perfect for beginners!

 

Spanish movies and shows are great, but I find studying music so much more enjoyable. As an added bonus, it’s slower and easier to listen for individual parts than the rapid spoken Spanish on TV. I created a Spanish playlist in Spotify that I use with these lyrics studies. Right now I am listening to:

  1. A lot of Jarabe de Palo
  2. Shakira – though a lot of her music is pretty fast
  3. Selena, because, why not? She is the Queen of Tejano.

It’s also important to mention that I don’t just listen to these songs. Once I’ve heard the song once or twice, I sing along. Singing the words makes me feel more comfortable with correct pronunciation and rhythm. Yesterday I was listening to a recommended Spanish playlist on Spotify, and came across this beautiful gem covered from a 1960s love ballad from Argentina. It’s the latest song I’ve studied and sang out loud.

I have a tab dedicated to lyric studies in my Spanish Learning Binder:

 

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Mi Carpeta (binder). It has cheat sheets and sections for verb conjugation practice, reading exercises, etc.

As I dedicate more time and effort to increasing my Spanish proficiency, my vocabulary improves by the day. As vocabulary improves, speaking improves. It’s still a long road to fluency, but practice will help me get there!

Con amor,

 

Eva

 

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