How to Learn a Language Without Realising it

I have been a language teacher for around three years and am an avid language learner myself. The advice I give the most often to my students is to instead of extra time to study, find ways to turn habits you already have into a language learning opportunity.

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1. Change Your Phone Settings

通知: Notify

蓝牙: Bluetooth

日历: Calendar

These are all words I’ve learned through having my phone set in mandarin. Little by little, you will recognise words you would have not learned otherwise and that are probably quite useful. Think about how much we use our phones nowadays, they are a major topic in our conversations!

And if you’re thinking: “How am I supposed to find what I want if I can’t understand the words?” chance is you already know your phone by heart without realising. As a tool we use every day, it has become second nature for us to find what we are searching for on our small devices.

How To Start Learning a Language

2. Journal in Your Target Language

I wouldn’t advise this one if journalling is not yet part of your routine, as that on its own is a tough habit to form. But if you are the type of person who writes down their intentions first thing in the morning, why not kill two birds with one stone?

We often hear that we have a unique personality for each language we speak. Journaling could you be the key to unlocking a version you didn’t know was hidden. A side of you at your fingertips.


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3. Learn How to Cook in Your TL

Who hasn’t looked up a recipe on YouTube or Google? You quickly go through an inventory of your kitchen and realise you have no idea what you are going to make for dinner, so you grab your phone and search for the best options. Why not do that in your target language? Not only will you learn the names of your favourite ingredients, but you could also find a whole different way to prepare them, which reflects the culture of the people that speak said language.

So next time you don’t know what to do with the leftover mushrooms in the back of your fridge, open the YouTube tab and search for “mushroom recipes” in your language, and there you go!

4. Working out in your target language

I spend a large portion of my time at the gym or working out and I like to use this time to practice my target languages as well. At the gym, I usually listen to Chinese music, or look up exercises on Chinese social media if in doubt. On the days where I have to workout at home (which, by the way, I hate), I always search for working-out videos from Chinese or Taiwanese YouTubers. It’s easy to follow due to the visual aspect of it all, but still allows me to catch a few words here and there to add to my vocabulary list.

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5. Consume content

This one seems obvious, but actually many people don’t realise that input is a fundamental aspect, if not the most fundamental, of learning a language. If we think of ourselves as children, it took us months and months of constant listening before we could say a single word, and probably years before forming a full sentence.

The same applies to your target language.

The more you hear a word or expression, the more you will comprehend when to use it. The more complex the concept, the more you will have to see it or hear it before you will be able to use it yourself.

So here are a few ways in which you can consume content in your target language:

    • Listen to a podcast or audiobook on your daily walk (I use Spotify and Scribd)

    • Watch a TV show or a movie. Language Reactor is an amazing app that allows you to add subtitles in two languages simultaneously.

    • Follow some influencers. If you’re about to scroll mindlessly anyway, might as well learn as you go.

These are some of the many ways that can help you learn your target language naturally, with minimal effort. What are yours?


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