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By OXO Innovation
November 19, 2019

5 Unusual Ways to Learn a New Language

Alright, so you’re trying to learn a new language. You googled it and already went through the usual tips – travelling, buying this or that software, practicing, celebrating your mistakes, and so on. Still, it’s not working for you. But don’t give up just yet!

We’ve put together this list of unusual hacks to help you through this journey, because we know there’s no one-size-fits-all path to mastering a new language.

1 – E-sír kusv-za-gìn-g-á

Say what now? E-sír kusv-za-gìn-g-á means “Blue Suede Shoes” in Sumerian.

Yes. Those shoes. From that song.

But why would anyone go to great lengths just to translate an Elvis hit (well, it was Carl Perkins’, really) from English to a 6,000-year-old Mesopotamian language and why should you care? I’m glad you asked!

Because music.

Music is universal and comes in many flavours other than Sumerian Elvis. Whatever you’re into, there’s a band waiting to be discovered and lyrics begging to be read somewhere out there. Mongolian folk metal, Russian rap, Wolof blues, Portuguese jazz, you name it. There’s even some Plume Latraverse in Italian. Yes. You’re welcome.

Whether an artist is signing translated verses from your favourite band or original lyrics that tell tales from their foreign land, the catchy melodies and simple structures can help you memorize words and sentences in a new language more easily. Besides, you get a taste of different nuances, accents, and pronunciations.

Listen carefully, read the lyrics, try translating them to understand what they mean. Music is a great, enjoyable way to learn a new language!

2 – Lovel

Local travel. Lovel. Get it? Ok, I just made that up and it’s terrible. But my point is you don’t always need to travel far to get a glimpse of a foreign culture. Most metropolitan centres host dozens of different communities with well-established restaurants, pubs and other eateries frequented by expats.

Spending a few hours chitchatting with the regulars can lead to interesting conversations and great learning opportunities by exposing yourself to casual, everyday talk.

Sure, it’s a bit of a long shot. You may not find anyone willing to spend time with you. But sometimes, it just works. As a bonus (and after a few drinks), they’ll probably be really happy to teach you slang, swear words and expressions you wouldn’t find in your regular textbook.

(Re)discovering and travelling within the ethnic communities that are often just next door is a low-cost and fun way to learn the basics in a new language!

3 – Back to school!

Like online language courses? Yeah, no. Not those. More like any class in a language other than your own.

I mean if, for example, you work in law and intellectual property, then prove it in Chinese. If you know the history and people of Siberia, try in Russian. If you strive to uphold basic human rights, learn about it in Arabic. There are countless classes – often offered for free – on just about any topic you can think of. Use this opportunity to revisit a subject you thoroughly understand, but in a language you would like to master.

Having videos to watch, topics to understand, lessons to remember, and assignments to complete will certainly be challenging, but the knowledge you already possess will prove to be extremely helpful in advancing your mastery of a new language.

 4 – Patterns. Patterns everywhere.

Learn to recognize patterns whenever you hear or read in another language.

Patterns exist at virtually every level. For example, in English, nouns that refer to more than one thing usually end in “s” (morphology). Articles such as “the” or “my” are usually followed by nouns, and never by verbs (syntax). And certain sounds commonly co-occur (e.g., pl or sl) while other sound combinations are never found (e.g., tl; phonology).”

In Italian, most feminine nouns end with “a,” while masculine ends with “o.” Plural forms become “e” and “i,” respectively. In French, there usually is an “e” at the end of a feminine noun. Other languages have other recognizable patterns.

Some patterns are more subtle and subconsciously learned by being thoroughly and continually exposed to a certain language. But other more obvious patterns can highlight some linguistic rules and can assist in understanding the structure and meaning of a phrase without necessarily understanding every word of it.

Picking up these patterns can help acquire the mechanics of a new language!

5 – There’s a nap for that

Whatever it is you are trying to learn, getting proper sleep is key to your success.

Actively learning is just one part of the endeavour. You also need your brain to rest in order for it to process and classify all that new information it’s been fed.

Your brain never really shuts down completely. Indeed, an important mechanism, called “consolidation,” occurs during sleep, as your brain builds connections between memories that result from your conscious efforts to learn. This effectively draws a bigger picture and increases your comprehension of a particular subject.

But wait, there’s more! New studies suggest that putting on headphones and actually listening to a foreign language while you sleep can speed things up! Doing so takes advantage of the fact that the parietal lobe, an important part of the brain in processing language, is still working even when you sleep. This “sleep encoding” method can help develop new language skills.

So if you want to become fluent in a new language, you can literally sleep on it!

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