You can be a little more proactive and immerse yourself even outside the classroom by doing a combination of the following 10 tips for DIY language immersion.
Treat this list like a buffet and pick and choose whatever works for your commitment level. This works for me, and it’s worked for some of my students and friends, but your mileage may vary!
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1. Change your phone or Facebook settings to your target language.
You already know the interface of your phone pretty well, it’s almost muscle memory for us. You’d be amazed at how beneficial it is to just SEE your target language every day, and subconsciously absorb it while just going about your regular social media use.
Also, if your Facebook is set to another language, it’ll offer to translate English posts into your target language on the spot. Boom.
2. DIY: Make your own textbook.
If you’re serious about learning a language, get a little notebook and use it to copy down vocabulary, grammar notes, odd expressions, etc. that you come across in your studies and/or travels.
Make sure to date everything so you have a record of your progress.
This is now your “textbook.”
You can review it regularly or never read it again, it’s up to you, but you need to get used to WRITING in your target language. This is especially important if you’re learning a new alphabet.
3. Listen to how natives talk, all the time, for language immersion.
Dig around on YouTube and find people from countries that speak your target language. Many of them have short language lessons but also post videos on other topics. Podcasts also work, but are more difficult to find in large quantity. Play the videos and/or podcasts in the background while you do the dishes, and other mindless chores.
The key is to find out how real people talk – not your textbook, not your teacher, not the dictionary. What you’re trying to do is develop an ear for your target language. Over time you will start to pick up the intonation in the way people speak, sentence structure, colloquial phrases, and maybe even be able to differentiate between accents. Try and mimic the way they speak by repeating words and phrases to yourself (doesn’t feel as weird as you’d think).Listen to YouTube videos in Italian while you do the dishes. The key is to find out how real people talk - not your textbook, not your teacher, not the dictionary. What you’re trying to do is develop an ear for your target language. Click To Tweet
4. Use your time on social media wisely.
Follow said YouTuber/podcast host/influencer on Twitter or Instagram or Facebook if that’s your thing. Again, you want to know how real people write, and even passively reading social media in your target language will help you get there.
5. Watch your favorite shows in Italian instead.
Netflix US has a decent repository of foreign movies and television shows, mostly Spanish and some Portuguese, but others too. If you have a VPN (always use paid service like ExpressVPN than a free one), set it to another country and see what you can find once Netflix thinks you’re in that country.
Personally, I love the TV show New Girl. Watching it dubbed in Italian after already having seen it so many times in English was a game changer for me – I learned so much! Put on English subtitles or, if you’re feeling adventurous, subtitles for your target language. Just know that if you’re watching a show in another language with subtitles in that language, the captioning frequently does not match the actors’ words exactly, but is often close to the spirit of what they’re saying.
6. Catch up with the news in Italian.
Find an online publication in your target language, and challenge yourself to “read” a short article or two each week. This is a good way to practice reading a more formal style of writing, learn how things are properly spelled, and to keep up with the news in countries that speak your target language. For example, The New York Times has a Spanish and a Chinese version. There may be a publication for speakers of the target language that live in your country. Or, you can just read a local publication from another country. Any news source in your target language is fine.
A good resource is the News in Slow Italian podcast that can help you listen to the news at a slightly slower speed, and offer both intermediate and advanced versions.
Here are the five biggest Italian newspapers for you to get started with:
- Il Messaggero (Roma)
- Il Corriere della Sera (Milano)
- La Repubblica (Roma)
- La Stampa (Torino) also available: iPhone App
- Il Fatto Quotidiano (Roma)
If you are lucky enough to live in Tampa, Florida, you can grab a copy of La Gaceta, which is the only trilingual newspaper in the USA featuring English, Spanish and Italian.
7. DIY language immersion without even leaving your city.
Do you live in a city with a significant population of speakers of your target language? Do you take public transportation or spend time in public places where people speak many different languages? Maybe you have a Little Italy in your city?
While I’m not advocating eavesdropping, being aware that there are people around you speaking your target language and hearing the intonation in their voice can be helpful. I play a little game when I’m in public; if I hear someone speaking another language, I try and figure out what language it is. Italian? German? Portuguese? Even being able to differentiate between languages and definitively know which one you are hearing is valuable.
This might even end up in a conversation. Once I was on the T in Boston and a Russian-speaking couple sitting across from me were struggling to figure out how to get to their destination. They noticed me noticing them and must have seen a little bit of comprehension in my face, because they started rapidly asking me questions in Russian! With my rusty and very limited Russian and their little bit of English we ended up figuring out where they needed to go. Sometimes you do really need to be thrown to the wolves and test yourself in real time.Do you live in a city with a significant population of speakers of your target language? While I don't advocate eavesdropping, being aware of someone speaking Italian can open up a new opportunity for you to speak with someone!Click To Tweet
8. Don’t only stick with digital, get some books, too!
As great as technology is, I find I learn most quickly when I have access to a combination of digital and hard copy resources. Call me old fashioned!
I’ve had great success finding very cheap book resources at thrift type stores. Of course, it depends on your target language and the ethnic makeup of your area on some level, but I’ve scored dictionaries, textbooks, 501 verb reference books in several languages, fiction in my target language, even guidebooks in my target language.
At this point I’ve figured out which stores in which towns near me are likely to have which of my target languages – X town has a significant Russian community and people regularly donate Russian language things, Y town is good for Spanish and Portuguese, etc. I make the rounds every couple of months and try to hit places like Savers that regularly have day-long sales where books are like 50 cents or something ridiculous like that.
I’ve found some pretty cool stuff this way too, like an old Russian biography of the late-1800s ballet master Marius Petipa, an out of print Uruguayan novel, a German textbook from the 1950s.As great as technology is, I find I learn most quickly when I have access to a combination of digital and hard copy resources. For finding cheap books, figure out where your significant Italian community is to find the local thrift store where they will donate their old books. Click To Tweet
9. Find people to practice with.
Now that you’re immersing yourself on your own, it’s time to practice your interpersonal communication. Learning a language is no fun if you don’t use it with anyone!
This is the challenging part, because it’s kind of scary and feels a little bit like a test. Just know that to really learn a language, you’re going to have to do some fumbling around in the dark. You’re going to forget the word for “teacher” and have to get around it by saying “the woman who stands up and tells students what to do” or something. It’s all part of the process, but when you get through it and exercise that muscle, it’s the best feeling.
To practice you’ll need to join a study group or class, find an Italian tutor or practice partner via Skype or in real life, join a Whatsapp group (folks on Duolingo forums start these all the time), whatever gets you talking verbally or in text with real people in real time!
10. Use more than just Duolingo.Duolingo and Memrise are popular, but remember to combine them with other immersive activities. You need to keep engaging with the language! And this will make a huge difference.Click To Tweet
I don’t think they’re particularly necessary, but if you want to use them, just know that you will not effectively learn a language relying only on these websites. You need to actually engage with the language by rotating sites like Duolingo with other immersive activities. It makes a huge difference, trust me.
Language is comprised of four core skills: reading, writing, speaking, and listening. You will need to exercise all four of these skills like muscles in order to become proficient in Italian.
Take action! What will you implement TODAY for your DIY language immersion in Italian? Tell us in the comments.
Angela is a polyglot who previously worked as a language teacher and private tutor. She is also a HUGE fan of self study: she taught herself Italian, and basic Russian and French.