Fun Ways To Supplement Foreign Learning Language Studies

Between classes, there are fun, practical ways to supplement language studies, such as seeing foreign films, listening to music, dining out and forming conversation groups, to name a few.

You've finished your final and you're leaving Spanish class for the day, the semester and the summer. You can now conjugate irregular verbs, count to nine thousand and ask Pepe where the pencil is without breaking a sweat. Short of moving to Mexico or Spain for the summer, how can you retain all of that knowledge, have a little fun with it and maybe, just maybe, put it to practical use?

Learning a language is far more than just conjugating and vocabulary lists. While the basics are an essential part of the process, there is also a whole other world outside of class. Explore and learn about your studied language of choice-- the traditions of the countries where the language is spoken, the people, the food and yes, the "pop" culture as well. You may also find yourself learning more about you and your own surroundings.

Eat, Drink and Be Merry

Never underestimate the power of food, drinks and atmosphere. Scour your city for all of the ethnic food choices it has to offer. Read reviews to check for authenticity, then let loose with a group of friends. Take in the restaurant decor, the music and the menu. Give yourself ten points for any word you recognize. There is nothing more satisfying than rememembering something off a vocabulary list you had two weeks ago. Indulge in a galette at a French cafe, try some patatas bravas in a Spanish restaurant, some posole from Mexico or some German wienerschnitzel. You may discover you have a more sophisticated palate than you thought you did.

Music, Music, Music

Take advantage of those websites that boast a million CD titles or those huge music megastores that are cropping up on every corner. In my humble opinion, there is nothing more fun, more invigorating, than listening to your language of choice in the form of classical, pop, rock or jazz. I recommend ballads for beginners, as the music is slower and therefore the words are usually easier to distinguish, although it also depends on the artist. The CD or cassette should ideally also contain the lyrics. You get spelling, pronunciation, slang expressions, and a whole new list of vocabulary words. Don't try to translate directly; work to get the gist of the song, the feeling of what the artist is saying. Chances are it won't feel at all like work. A few artists to try: Spanish- Luis Miguel (Mx- pop ballad), Mana (Mx- rock); French - Jean-Luis Aubert (rock), Francis Cabrel (folk); Italian - Eros Ramazzotti (pop); Portuguese - (Br) Daniela Mercury

At the Movies

Pop some corn, dim the lights, sit back and enjoy. Foreign films, while sometimes saddled with a bad rap, are a great way to kick that language ability into gear. Hit the foreign film section at the video store or check out a film festival and absorb, absorb, absorb, keeping in mind that some foreign-made films can be a bit more explicit than mainstream Hollywood fare and that the endings won't always be sweet and happy. You're discouraged because you're finding that you have to read over half of the subtitles? Don't be. Idiomatic expressions, slang, and different dialects and speeds can all contribute to the need to refer to the written word below. Movies, however, are a great way to learn common phrases and they should be fairly easy to spot. "I'm full" in Italian? "Leave me alone!" in French? Being able to watch facial expressions and gestures and to hear the intonation in specific scenarios will help tremendously in your language studies. You may also discover some great soundtracks. Some movies that I can recommend:

Italian: Il Postino (The Postman); French: Au Revoir, Les Enfants (Good-bye, Children); Spanish: Belle Epoque (don't let the French name fool you) and Como Agua Para Chocolate (Like Water for Chocolate.)

Other Ideas

Here are a few other ideas that can be expanded upon only with the limits of one's imagination:

-- Form a conversation group with others in the class and advertise on campus (if you are at a school) or a local coffeeshop to try and get some native speakers to come and join you. This can be a two-way street. They can learn as much from you as you learn from them.

-- Start a "movie" or "restaurant night" with students from your class or friends who also have an interest in learning with you. Open a movie night with a cooking session of a typical native dish or finish a restaurant night with dessert and discussion in the language of choice. Make sure to include everyone in the discussions even if your level is fairly high; you don't want to discourage beginners.

-- If you are in a larger city, or live near one, take advantage of all of the neighborhood festivals and heritage celebrations. Check with your city's Chamber of Commerce for information.

Finally, above all, use the language you are studying whenever the opportunity arises. Being shy will not assist you in correcting mistakes or perfecting your pronunciation. Sure, you may make an embarrassing blunder or two, but the worst that will come of this is learning from your error and having an amusing anecdote to share at paries. Take what you're learning and run with it. Next stop, Paris.

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