Sustainable Language: 7 Recyclable Learning Challenges That Stay Fresh Every Day
We try it every New Year.
This year, I’ll make use of that gym membership.
This year, I’ll finally clean out the garage.
This year, I’ll learn to cook something besides toast.
You know the rest of the story.
By February, most of us are back to our old habits.
That’s usually because resolutions are big goals, and it’s hard to work towards them every single day.
If you’ve decided to learn a language—either back in January or just yesterday—you’ve got a big goal ahead of you, too. But with strategic language learning challenges, it’s much easier than you might think to make consistent progress towards fluency.
In this post, we’ll show you seven smart ideas to give yourself a language challenge every day. Even though they don’t require tons of time and preparation, they can have a big impact on your language skills before the next New Year rolls around!
How to Launch Your Language Learning Challenge
Buy a language workbook.
You can purchase textbooks and workbooks for various languages from Amazon or try your local bookstore. These books can give you straightforward grammar explanations that you can then apply in your language challenges. They also generally lay out a language learning plan chapter-by-chapter, so they’re helpful for bringing some structure to your studies.
Download a language app.
This is a fun, motivating tool to use in a challenge because the apps automatically create new material and lessons for you to use every day. Many of them offer daily reminders at a specific time, so you don’t forget to practice.
FluentU is a fun, comprehensive learning app to get started with.
FluentU takes authentic videos—like music videos, movie trailers, news and inspiring talks—and turns them into personalized language learning lessons.
The videos are organized by genre and learning level, so it’s easy to find one that works for you. They’re usually a few minutes long and can be watched on your browser or through the mobile app, making it perfect for some language practice on your lunch break, when you’re waiting in line at the store, whenever! There are currently programs for Mandarin Chinese, Spanish, French, Russian and several other major languages—check out the full video library for free with a FluentU trial.
Get a goal-tracking journal.
In the front or back of your journal, keep a list of long- and short-term goals. Short-term goals could be: ordering at a restaurant in your target language or mastering a specific set of vocabulary. Long-term goals could be: building a 1,000-word vocabulary or finishing a novel in your target language.
By writing out your goals, you can look back on what study methods you like best and make the most progress with.
Schedule language learning into your agenda.
Make sure you have a specific time of day dedicated to working on your target language. Consider what time or times of day you’re most alert, so you’ll get the most out of your learning. Just like going to the gym, you can decide if you want to get up early and work out or wait until after work. After a while, it’ll become a habit.
It’s also a good idea to write down what skill or language task you want to spend each session working on. Be sure to mix it up to build well-rounded skills. For example, I like using an app daily to work on grammar, vocabulary and pronunciation, doing a writing exercise once or twice a week, plus sometimes I’ll watch a show in the language I’m working on to mix things up. That’s what works best for me, my lifestyle and my learning.
Practice Makes Fluent! 7 Language Learning Challenges You Can Do Every Day
Listen and Repeat
Download short clips in your target language to listen to daily and repeat what’s being said. Start with only a few seconds at a time so you can concentrate on each sound and gradually build up to longer and longer clips.
Here are some great places you can find audio clips in your target language:
- Podcasts are a fantastic way to find bite-sized, natural audio in your target language that you can carry anywhere on your phone. You can try authentic foreign podcasts or podcasts created especially for language learners.
- Check out these resources to find songs in your target language, including several with built-in study tools.
- Dictations are recordings of someone reading or speaking for a short amount of time in another language, and are commonly used in language classes to practice writing and pronunciation. A good place to find dictations is YouTube—just type the language you’re learning plus “dictation” in the search bar.
Using a mixture of audio sources will give you more of a variety of words and sounds to absorb.
Write in a Language Journal
The purpose of a language journal is for you to actively use your new vocabulary and to learn how to express yourself in your target language. Keeping a foreign language dictionary handy during this exercise is also helpful, in case you need to look up a few words.
Begin by writing a short introductory paragraph about yourself, such as where you’re from, how old you are, what you like to do on weekends, etc. You can also simply record your plans for the day (if you’re writing in the morning) or what happened each day (if you’re writing at night). For more formal writing practice, try writing letters or emails to friends.
Something else I like to do is write about something I love, like my dog or my family. It’s hard to get bored or lose focus on topics like that! You could also write about an activity, like swimming or hiking, to pick up specialized vocabulary that’s important to you.
Watch Subtitled Media
Watching foreign language TV and movies is a fun way to get listening practice. But don’t just kick your feet up and zone out. Put on those subtitles to help you follow the script while learning new words and phrases.
Again, FluentU is a useful resource here because the subtitles are crafted especially for language learners. Just click any word you don’t recognize for an in-context definition, visual learning aid, native pronunciation and links to other videos that use the word. Plus, there are English-translated captions that you can easily toggle on or off depending on how difficult you want your challenge to be.
Try recording yourself on your phone, reading aloud or just talking, then play it back to see what words you still need to work on pronouncing. While it can be a little cringe-worthy to hear yourself speak aloud in another language (or even your native language!) it’s really helpful in catching your bad pronunciation habits. I also find this really helpful for eliminating hesitations and “ums” when I’m speaking.
One of the simplest ways to find speaking material for this exercise is to simply take something you’ve written in your language journal and record yourself reading it out loud. You can also find a news article online from the country whose language you’re learning.
Want real native speakers to correct your recordings and catch the mistakes you’re not even aware of? Submit your recordings to HiNative, an app that connects you with native speakers who can answer your questions and help you improve.
Memorize a “Word of the Day”
Try to master one new word or phrase a day. Don’t just memorize its definition—try to use it in a sentence, either in your head throughout the day or in writing in your language journal. This is a simple and efficient way to make sure your vocabulary is always growing.
News articles are again a great source for this activity since they use everyday language that’s relevant to today’s speakers. Anytime you encounter a word in an article that you don’t know, make it your “word of the day.” You can also simply open up a dictionary to a random page and look for a new, useful word. As time goes on, increase the difficulty of the words you want to master.
Listen to Audiobooks
The benefit of listening to books is that you get added context from the person reading the book. Their voice acting won’t just help you better understand the plot of the story, but also intonation and stress in your target language. They’re also a great supplement to the shorter listening activity we discussed above—as you fall into the adventure, romance or mystery of a good book, it’ll be easier and easier to listen for longer lengths of time.
Plus, you can listen to an audiobook while you’re doing anything, from cleaning up the house to driving!
Start with something easy, like children’s books or books you’ve already read (“Harry Potter” is a particular favorite among beginner language learners).
Here’s where to find audiobooks for every stage of your language learning journey.
Switch Your Tech Settings
If you have a smartphone or tablet, try adding a foreign language keyboard that you can type in when surfing online, writing notes to yourself or posting on social media.
You can also switch all the language settings on your phone, tablet or email to another language. It’s a little thing that can help you get used to reading in your target language every day.
Here are instructions to change an Apple device’s language settings. Here’s your guide if you have an Android device.
Pushing yourself to practice every day can help you learn the basics of the language faster because you’re really working to cement those concepts in your brain. And if you forget a day, no worries, because like any skill, language is a process. Remember that the whole point of any challenge is to improve a skill, not to become fluent overnight. This is meant to be challenging, but it’s also meant to be fun, so pushing through any obstacles will be worth it in the long run.