How to make learning a language fun for your students?
If you were to ask a child about a superpower they could have, you’ll get a lot of common yet fun responses, spanning from being able to fly to the likes of being able to run extremely fast… like really, really fast!
But amongst the common ones, you will definitely find one answer that sounds very peculiar - the power of being able to talk to animals. Why is it that a child would want this power?
It stems from the desire to be able to communicate. And that desire doesn’t go away even as adults. Communication is fundamental to the human psyche and we’re always looking to get better at it. There’s a desire to understand and learn about different cultures, new ideas, and new ways of living, new languages.
But why is it that even after going through years of foreign language education in school, people are rarely able to speak more than one language?
The reason is likely one that you’re familiar with. It’s just that the classes are plain and simply boring.
Now that the obvious has been stated. It’s worth your time to take a look at why the case is such.
Why traditional teaching methods don’t work?
Now that we know you’re a language teacher you’ve had varied experiences of learning a language. You’ve definitely experienced high school language classes. And you’ve most likely taken classes as an adult.
Now to compare the effectiveness of both types of education is not the best thing to do. It’s clear that traditional classes, rote learning grammar points, and vocabulary lists from high school do not work.
It’s a good question to ask yourself - what changed?
Remembering those boring classes and techniques from high school tells you one really important thing. It's that the way language is taught at schools is not the most effective way to teach. And worst of all it is boring.
Now, remember the classes later in life? How much fun they were, how interesting they felt, how you couldn’t wait to show off your fluency to native speakers and impress your friends?
The key here is that you were having fun. When you’re having fun, even the toughest of subjects start to seem easy. When things are fun, you stay consistent; you find yourself going back to them and devoting your time to making yourself better. It no longer feels like a chore
But now, as a teacher, you find yourself at a crossroads of sorts. Should you follow the conventional methods of teaching in a classroom? Should you follow some nontraditional ways? You don’t want your classes to be boring. You want them to be as much fun as you had when you were learning the language.
Then how do you as a teacher make your language classes more interesting?
Learning a new language is never an easy task for anyone. It might seem tedious to learn vocabulary day in and day out. Memorizing grammar points is no fun for anyone. But these are still important things to learn. Although not the most fun, yet very important.
But running language classes just like any other school is a bad idea. It can be boring at best and discouraging at worst.
You need to make your students realize how fun the language can be.
So how do you make learning fun and easy?
Here are a few language-learning tips!
- Encourage language immersion
- Make a game out of practice
Let's deep dive into a few different ways in the journey of language learning that are sure to improve language lessons, speaking skills, and writing skills and make learning language fun.
1. Encourage Language immersion
The what and the why
How do humans fundamentally learn a language? It’s not like we come with a default English setting when we’re born. No, we come as a blank canvas. For the first few months, we were unable to speak. Then in about a year or so, we utter some of our first words, usually “Mommy” or “Daddy.” Then in about a few years, we can hold entire conversations. How does that happen?
Did we as kids go to a school to learn English? Or were we drilled down grammar points by our parents? Definitions of nouns and pronouns. No. We speak English merely because it is commonly spoken by everyone around us. That is language immersion. We don’t learn the language. We acquire it. We were surrounded by English speakers all the time. And we slowly started imitating them, then recognizing patterns, and ultimately started using the language
Now, of course, as adults, we can’t spend 24 hours in a day listening to a foreign language. Neither is it possible nor is it feasible. But we can come close to it.
We’re not blank canvases either. We have jobs, responsibilities, and a plethora of thoughts running in circles through our minds. That is why we enroll ourselves in language classes, buy books and learn vocabulary until the language starts to make basic sense.
There are challenges, yes. But the way we acquire languages fundamentally remains the same.
Encouraging your students to immerse themselves into their target language is a great way to ensure they’re constantly engaged with the language and are getting constant input.
After learning the absolute basics of any language, it is best to start immersing in the language. Language immersion is a very powerful supplementary method of learning. It’s a passive method that doesn’t require active memorization or concept application. You’re to simply exist in the middle of it all, as you’re surrounded by the language. But how do we do that? Well, there’s the option of relocating to the country, But we all know that’s not a real option.
If one were to simply replace their sources of entertainment with their target language, they can get a lot of language immersion done. If you’re interested in learning a language, it is also a very high possibility that you’re interested in the culture. Immerse yourself into that culture by listening to the music and watching their tv shows. Ask a native speaker to talk to you strictly in the language that you’re targeting. Read their books, children's books, novels, nursery rhymes, whatever soothes the mind. Remember, the target is to be comfortable listening to the language. Don’t force yourself to pick up difficult literature or complex tv shows. Start easy, simple books, simple entertainment.
When you’re exposed to the language long enough, you start to pick up on accents, patterns, and common ways that people talk. You’re exposing yourself to a natural conversation through television and cinema. You’re exposing yourself to thoughts and ideas through books, through poetry.
Slowly but surely, you’ll see improvement in your students' language capabilities, and you’ll notice that all this while, they were learning the language while having fun!
Watch TV Shows/ Cinema
TV shows are probably the most effective way to immerse into a language. It comes second only to you actually relocating to the country. Everyone indulges in some evening Netflix after work. Why not make your students watch a show in a foreign language or a foreign movie or just a few foreign music videos? At first, one may use English subtitles to get used to the accents and the way of speaking and to get an understanding of what the show is about. But after a while, change the subtitles to the original language and realize that a lot can be understood merely through context. They will start to recognize common phrases being used, and common words. And soon, will be on your way to mastering the language!
Alternatively, your students can watch a popular show that you love but dub into your target language. There are plenty of people studying Spanish by watching a dubbed version of the very popular tv show “friends.” Since you already have enough context for most episodes, it’s even easier to focus purely on the language itself.
Then there’s also reality tv which is often the closest representation of how the language is most naturally spoken, even including swear words in day-to-day scenarios. Don’t hold back your students in indulging in some guilty pleasure reality tv ;)
Hold weekly viewings of a tv show or a movie in your class, and get your students to engage with the dialogue in the films. Get them to discuss parts that they don’t understand; if one student doesn’t understand a certain part and someone else does, they can teach them. This helps build confidence in students and allows them to polish their language skills by teaching others.
If they’re more advanced learners, get them to discuss the themes of the movie and what emotions the piece of cinema might have invoked. This helps them discuss their ideas and their emotions. It helps them go beyond conversational proficiency and helps them get a hold of conveying abstract thoughts. This is a very important step to get to attaining fluency in a language and being able to express free-flowing thought.
Start a mini book club
Reading books is a great way to enhance reading speed and comprehension for a language learner. Since, while reading, one can set their own pace and take their own time reading the text, it becomes a relaxing activity once one is comfortable with the language. As opposed to following quick dialogue on television or watching movies, which can sometimes be tedious.
Incorporating book reading into your language curriculum is a great way to generate engagement with students from Day 1. Invoke interest in your students by bringing an interesting book on the first day of class, or you can bring multiple books and let your students choose whichever one they like. Book reading is extremely helpful in discovering new words, add sticky notes to certain words, understand the grammar- past and present tense.
As your classes progress, incorporate the story into your classes bit by bit. This generates engagement and makes sure that your students stay interested. Since a story contains many simple grammar points, writing styles, and common phrases, some might even contain common idioms. The book becomes a great base to get material for your regular classes while teaching new languages.
Now, the level of reading should vary on what stage of learning one has reached. If the students are absolute beginners, then children’s story books such as fairytales or an alphabet book with basic 2-line stories work best. These contain short sentences and are commonly used for words. It targets basic learning of vocabulary and understanding of simple grammatical structures. The books familiarize the students with the language.
For more advanced learners, working through a novella or short stories/essays for elementary school reading works well. These contain more advanced vocabulary. A plethora of grammatical structures. While the stories still remain relatively simple, the goal is usually to get a learner from a point where they’re reading a sentence, translating it in their head, and then comprehending it to the point where they can read a sentence and just understand it. The idea is to get one to comprehend a language and not stay stuck in translating.
Talk to native speakers
People have this misconception that you’re only allowed to freely speak a language when you have gained proficiency. This could not be further from the truth. You know it, I know it. Your students need to know this as well.
Trying to converse with a native speaker is a great way to practice and immerse yourself in the language. Encourage your students to take a stroll at local markets or community areas where a certain language-speaking group gathers. Encourage language learners to make conversation, and let your students make mistakes; making mistakes is how they will learn. It is an essential part of language learning to get used to speaking to a native speaker in their native language, keeping up with their pace, their dialects, and their slang.
2. Make a game out of practice!
Now, practicing gets a bad rap because people are afraid to fail. Afraid to fail, afraid to embarrass themselves. Look, you know it, we know it - you’ll only learn through your mistakes. The initial embarrassment of speaking in broken words far is far exceeded by the amount of learning it gives you, and not to forget the amount of confidence it builds. But most people stay afraid; that is why most people practice in front of the mirror.
It doesn’t have to be that way. Have you ever noticed how when one person is put in the spotlight, they tend to get awkward and afraid? But when put with a whole group of friends, the same embarrassment turns into jokes and humor; there’s encouragement and healthy sarcasm.
Take advantage of this and get your students to participate in fun activities.
Enact a play
Preparing for a play is always a fun activity. Bring forward a famous script, hold auditions, and delegate roles. Be it re-enacting Romeo and Juliet in german or a replica of a Monty Python skit. Let there be speaking trees; let there be peter pan and captain hook. When there’s a group activity taking place at large, even the shyest of your students are sure to engage!
Enacting a play as a learning tool helps tremendously with speaking abilities, sentence timing, and understanding of the tempo of a language. If you have various batches, let the advanced group hold a play for the beginner group. The beginners can take notes; it becomes a fun activity for them to enjoy. Moreover, they can look forward to doing a similar play when they get to the advanced stages. This ensures commitment to the language learning journey.
Order food at a restaurant
What place is more social than a table full of food, surrounded by familiar faces? Restaurant settings are some of the best places for people to relax and take a break. Especially when there's a big group, people tend to let go of their inhibitions and open up heartily.
This is a great place for your students to experience talking to locals or native speakers of a foreign language. Get your students to a local restaurant where their native tongue is spoken, and let them order the food in their target language. The simple act of ordering food in a new language and having that first conversation exchange is an excellent boost to your student's morale. And don't forget that even if one fails, they are surrounded by other people who are equally as new to the same language, so laughing it off will never be a problem. This becomes a win-win situation where students get to relax and practice some basic listening skills and conversational skills without the fear of failing or embarrassment.
No matter what stage in life someone is at. Learning a new language is sure to open up a plethora of opportunities never seen before. Opening oneself to an entirely new culture, an entirely new people, and an entire library of literature and entertainment are some of the greatest things that one can experience. And everyone should definitely experience it at least once in their lifetime.
There's no doubt that teaching someone a foreign language is just as self-fulfilling as learning one. The journey is a dynamic one, and we're sure here to help you make this ride more enjoyable.
We hope you had fun reading our blog and learned a new thing or two!
Until then! Adios, Auf Wiedersehen, Sayōnara and Namaste ;)
Teaching a language doesn’t have to be a boring task. Learn how you can make your language classes fun for your students and keep them engaged!