An example of language learning tip #3: write something. In this example, the student made a “To Do” list to practice their target language (in this case, English).
Illustration by Lucinda Drake

In the state of Oregon, a second language is required in every high school. At Franklin, students have the option to take classes in Spanish, Russian, German, Mandarin, and French. Given all of these opportunities, it seems like Franklin would be a language learner’s paradise, right? Well, not exactly. An ideal environment would include more vigorous practice and immersion, but this isn’t an option for every student, let alone PPS as a whole. Even with Franklin’s numerous options for language classes, foreign language is still a difficult subject, especially with some students only practicing during their limited 90 minute class periods. Listed below are several options to augment Franklin’s foreign language curriculum and help students find more creative ways to practice and learn language.

1. Start small with participation. Make a weeklong resolution to raise your hand once every class to answer a question, offer your opinion, or simply ask another student how they are doing in another language. Once you finish your first week of forced-participation, try another, and push yourself to raise your hand twice or offer to read aloud to the class. Additionally, don’t be afraid to mess up! Everyone is trying to learn the language the same as you; the only difference is that you have the courage to participate! If you have trouble putting yourself on the spot in class, try going in for tutorial and talking to your teacher (ask them questions or tell them about your day!). This kind of participation is scary, but as time goes on, you’ll be glad you did it.

2. Let the language influence your sources of entertainment. Listen to music, watch a movie, or read a comic in your language. The more you engage with foreign language outside the classroom, the better. Try listening to one song in your language of choice for a week, get to know the words, sing them to yourself, and soon you’ll be learning phrases that’ll make you look like a language whiz. Another useful tip comes from one of Franklin’s very own French teachers, Ms. Miller, who recommends “tak[ing] a Disney movie that you know by heart, that you watched a million times when you were a kid,” and “either put it in French or Spanish or Russian or whichever language of your choice and then keep the same language in the subtitles so you’re hearing it and you’re reading it and you [will] understand very quickly.” Although some media might be a little beyond your skill level, don’t feel discouraged! Look for words you know and try to figure out the context, and remember not to beat yourself up if you don’t know a lot; you’re still learning!

3. Write something. Try keeping a journal in your language and write in it as much as you can. Through journaling you can use the words you need to express yourself, and the words you use continuously you’ll know extra well! Write about your day, something interesting you saw, a grocery list you found on the ground, or anything else! Usually language courses incorporate speaking, comprehension, writing, and reading skills. By writing regularly, your skills in this area as well as your confidence will increase.

4. Get your friends involved. Make a text group chat and agree to only speak the language you study, meet up once a week at lunch to talk, or ask someone to be your language penpal. It’s helpful to use language in a low stress environment, and communicate with friends and loved ones. Since communication is the ultimate purpose of language, it only seems natural that you should practice it this way. In general it pays off to challenge yourself, especially in foreign language.

5. Find a practice book. Practicing the technical pieces of language takes work, and sometimes it’s the boring practice book that help you succeed on your next conjugation quiz. Try setting aside fifteen minutes a day to practice conjugation or learn new vocabulary. Overtime these little practices will contribute to your overall knowledge of language. The conjugations and tenses will start coming to you easier and with less effort. If you don’t want to go out and buy a practice book, there are plenty of options online to help run conjugation drills and other technical practices of language. This tip is simple, but it can really work some magic if you commit to the practice and make it a routine.

6. Travel. This is the least affordable tip on this list, but the most helpful. It is difficult to practice a foreign language without full immersion and constant stimulation. Miller recommends that “if you really want to learn that language fluently, you must be in a place where that language is spoken all the time.” The best way to do this is on a trip that lasts longer than three months, so you get over what many language learners refer to as the three-month-hump, where the language begins to become more natural. Miller also suggests that it is beneficial to avoid traveling with a group of people that you know (but remember to stay safe) because this gives you an excuse to avoid using the language! In language learning it is good to struggle and feel challenged because those experiences are the ones you grow from the most. You begin to learn strictly “useful” vocabulary and the communication skills that you need to actually survive (“water…food…bathroom?”). Additionally, it is a fantastic opportunity to learn more about the culture and people who use this language. If traveling seems too out of the question due to your financial situation, try looking online. There are a lot of opportunities to do volunteer work abroad or travel on a scholarship.

No matter your reason for pursuing foreign language, hopefully these tips were helpful. In the end it’s important to remember your strengths and to challenge yourself regularly. Learning language is difficult, but immensely rewarding. Keep up the good work, and remember these tips!

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