Modern technology can be polarizing. If you’re still unfamiliar with its grim and dark side, try watching an episode or two of Black Mirror. It’s a British science fiction television series that examines the ill and unforeseen effects of technology on our society. However, if you’d rather stick to today’s news, it’s also not surprising to hear reports that excessive use of social media affects mental health.
But with the bad definitely comes the good. A great way to benefit from advances in technology is to use it as a tool for language learning. Decades ago, wanting to speak Mandarin Chinese, Spanish or Portuguese usually entailed reading tons of books and traveling to different continents to be able to fully practice what you’ve learned.
Now, with gadgets and apps made available to us, it’s easier, faster and more fun to communicate and learn new things, such as a foreign a language. And because we live in a global economy, there is a huge need for cross-cultural communication. However, supply is unable to meet the staggering demand. For the 2017-18 school year, the US Department of Education has stated that schools across the United States have reported shortages in teachers, with 41 states grappling with a shortfall in foreign language instructors.
But instead of just waiting for this national problem to be addressed, we can take advantage of everyday technologies, whether or not they are intended to teach us a new language.
Here are four things you can try:
1. Turn car rides into language sessions.
Research shows that you can learn more effectively if you are doing so while accomplishing a task. What better way to start than to listen to directions and navigation vocabulary in a new language! But before you adjust your language settings, make sure you’ve learned and reviewed common phrases for directions, time and distance. If you’re a beginner, you should try second-language navigation on routes that you’re already familiar with. That way, you won’t get too stressed with being lost, and you can just focus on absorbing the phrases and translating them as you drive yourself to your destination.
This technique works for two reasons. First, while you may already be familiar with the route, you are still pressured to follow instructions, or risk the chance of completely losing your way. Second, because you also have a chance to look at the map, you have some background information and context that can help you understand what the GPS is telling you.
2. Change your mobile app settings.
Nowadays, we are attached to our phones and can’t go anywhere without it. It’s how we send messages to friends, read emails and browse social media. We check our phones first thing in the morning and do the same before we go to bed at night. Studies have shown that Americans use their mobile apps 5 hours a day and millennials, in particular check, their phones 150 times a day!
So with the amount of time we clock in using apps like Facebook or Instagram for instance, it’s smart to maximize our hours by learning a few words and phrases in a new language. Just like with adjusted GPS settings, you’ll already have some context of the foreign words or phrases you see while you navigate apps or check emails. For example, you can change your Facebook settings to show the language you want to learn. With 100 languages to choose from, it’s highly likely that Facebook supports your chosen foreign language. And because you are so used to seeing certain buttons in the app’s user interface, you’ll have a fairly easy time figuring out how to translate the foreign language version in your native language.
3. Subscribe to YouTube channels.
YouTube is not just a source of random videos or movie clips, it’s a place that’s rich in opportunities for language learning. There are hundreds of channels with an endless selection of videos that teach the language you want to learn. Popular YouTube polyglots use different styles and methods to inspire subscribers and viewers to learn a new language. On channels like Create Your World Books, Susanna Zaraysky teaches musical hacks and techniques as a way to activate more parts of the brain for language learning.
4. Take online language classes.
Today, an online classroom includes videos, interactive grammar correction tools, chatboards and webcams. Learning a new language has become accessible and customizable, with options to learn autonomously, while still giving you an opportunity to have an interactive dialogue with your teacher.
During my first few years in China, I struggled to find classes that catered to my level and fit my own needs. I tried it all. I used Rosetta Stone to no avail. Berlitz, once the gold standard in language training was about as good as you’d expect something built in 1878 to be. I tried local Chinese schools and failed there too. I began to think I wasn’t a language person. I thought, like many Americans, that ...unless you were born with natural abilities it was hopeless.
That turns out not to be true. When I founded BRIC language systems, I wanted to make sure that our language learning programs did not use a “one size fits all” approach like some of the aforementioned programs. We connect the best teachers worldwide with students right here in the US using interactive onscreen content. Through BRIC, it became my personal mission to create a program where students will not have the same experience I had when I was a young expat in China.
With these methods, you don’t need to be stuck in a classroom or spend thousands in travel expenses before becoming fluent in your dream language. In fact, with a smartphone, good Wi-Fi connection and the motivation to learn, you’ll reach your goal in no time!